Since I entered my forties a few years back, I’ve been offered masses of conflicting ‘truths’ and ‘knowledge.’
Everything is downhill from here.
You’re still young! Forty is the new thirty!
Well, you’re in your forties. Increased injury and weight gain is just normal.
Oh, you have no idea. Wait till you hit fifty. Then your body really starts to fall apart.
And um, not a single one of those is comforting. Because my forties have hit me hard. Really hard. I feel nothing like thirty and if I continue at this pace I will be three hundred pounds and barely crawling by fifty (wearing my knees raw trying to run my six miles, lift weights and eat my pound of raw veggies every day).
With all the negative talk and my own fairly dramatic symptoms, I’ve been looking around in wonder at all these healthy vibrant happy gray-haired people. Can it really be that hard for everyone?
So you can imagine my delight yesterday when my widowed friend, Florence reassured me, “I feel better now than I did at twenty-eight!”
And look, I just happen to have a photo of Florence with Mary on her eighty-third birthday two weeks ago.
Florence went on to explain her fatigue and achiness, pain in her joints and hips from all those years ago. She told her husband, “I’ll never make it to fifty. I can barely get through each day.” With his encouragement, she visited doctors, read books, loaded up on vegetables and vitamins, and with time, felt energetic and vibrant.
“Of course, I’ve had all kinds of other ailments since then,” Florence laughed, “but I tackle them one at a time and don’t give in to discouragement.”
“You can get better,” she promised me.
Erik and my sister remind me I’ve been through a lot the past few years. As my sister says, “This isn’t about your age. It’s an injury. It’s as if every bone in your body was broken. You can heal, but you need time.”
My sister would know. Her back literally broke two years ago under the stress of my father’s actions. She was told she needed surgery, she’d never run again– but after months in bed, physical therapy and time, she began walking, then jogging and finally running. The first time she walked her kids to school, she told me, felt like running a marathon. Last Saturday, she ran twenty miles with a friend.
I take great comfort in Winston Churchill, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Gandhi and Julia Child, who all hit their stride much later in life. And I love Victor Hugo’s description of a woman who “in growing old attained the beauty of goodness.”
Everyone has been assailed by the naysayers– junior high kids are warned, “you’ll be buried in homework,” blushing brides are teased with, “you won’t like him so much in a few months,” young mothers (already exhausted) are told, “If you think it’s hard now just wait till they are teenagers.” (for the record: any amount of homework is manageable with a bit of organization, I love my husband more than the day I married him and teenagers are absolutely delightful.)
I’ll been guilty myself, taunting my younger running buddies with “just wait till you hit your forties!” And why? Does it make me feel wise or strong to predict storm clouds? Do I feel superior for traveling life’s road a few steps ahead?
But I haven’t traveled their road, none of us has walked any path but our own. When I first began riding my bike up Utah’s steep canyon roads at age seventeen, every time I passed another cyclist, I was struck over and over by the same thought–“I have no idea how far they’ve ridden.” They may have started at the last campground, the mouth of the canyon or their home fifty miles away. Flat tires, empty water bottles and sore muscles may have plagued their ride, or maybe they just ate four chocolate chip cookies and are racing to the top. My only job as a fellow cyclist is to wave, offer smiles and encouragement for those who are weary. Yes, I’ll warn them of potholes or mountain lion sightings but calling out, “the next hill is so steep, you’ll never make it!” would be just plain mean.
Tragedy, illness and pain strike every age, but so does joy, delight and serendipity. I vow to rejoice in every success, every beauty, every lucky break of those around me. To mourn with those who mourn, comfort those in need of comfort and when I meet a struggling soul to offer reassurance—things will get better.
In a wild moment of bravery, I offered to make a video for a Dutch clothing company, LoFff (in exchange for some lovely clothes). The owner, Joanneke, radiate happiness and optimism; she is effervesecent— even through email. Her story is worth reading. I hope you enjoy the innocence, the sunshine, the open laughter and smiles. But more than anything I hope you hear the message of the song “all failure is fleeting.”
Yes, I may be ‘over the hill’ but I’m still a little girl with great big plans.