The other day my good friend Rose posted a link to a blog post titled, “This is 45,” written by Emily Mendell. A great deal of it hit home with me, despite my being a few years short. I’ll be 42 this year, I just realized, and Dave confirmed. My inability to keep track of my age makes him laugh, but it makes me happy, too, because the numbers have stopped mattering.
You begin to realize that granting yourself permission to just “be” is one of the hardest things you will ever attempt.
That’s true. Sometimes I feel as if I’ve spent all of my life trying to be something: smarter, thinner, prettier, more successful, richer, better liked. And there’s nothing wrong with any of those pursuits. I worked hard at them. Right now, though, I’m learning that it’s a lot harder to stop trying to be something I can’t. There are some aspects of my health that I can’t control, and I have to let myself be what I am. And in general, I have to love myself the way I am, even if it isn’t as good as I want to be. It helps to have a very wonderful man who says he loves me just the way I am; it really does. There are times I still struggle. I second-guess decisions I made years ago, I berate myself for bad choices. I agonize over decisions already made. But as Ms. Mendell says, there’s also a certain acceptance I have now, that this is the way life is, and that it’s okay.
I hope it’s also helped me to be more accepting of the world around me. If there’s one thing I know I’ve said more in my forties than I did in any other decade, it’s, “I don’t understand why you’re choosing to do that, but I accept it.” Friends, family, people we know — we can have opinions about what they do, of course, we can’t help it, if we care about them at all. But we can’t make their decisions for them, right or wrong. I hope that I’ve learned to simply accept that with or without my approval, people will choose to spend their lives a certain way. I won’t always agree, but I can respect their decision.
Acceptance doesn’t mean being a doormat, though.
At 45 your tolerance for mean people hits rock bottom. Life is too short to spend any energy on bullies. They are easier to eliminate from your life, while also easier to understand. You can’t help but pity people who hurt so much they have to make others feel badly, but you are smart enough to do so from a distance.
It’s true that I can understand, now, why someone is hurtful more so than I would have as a younger person. I know how hard the world is, and I know there a lot of people walking around in pain every day, inside and out. Sometimes I can see just how they got the way they are, and sometimes I can feel sympathy, or pity, but all the understanding in the world isn’t a good enough reason to stay around a person, a situation, that is toxic to me. And when I realize someone can’t seem to help but hurt anyone around them, I finally know enough to stay away.
It’s like the part of the Serenity Prayer that everyone knows says: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” The prayer goes on to talk about a pathway to peace and learning to be reasonably happy in this life, and that’s what I think being 41, or 45, is about — finding your way there.
Quietly folding laundry on a chilly Sunday afternoon as your family happily co-exists in this home you have built together trumps pretty much everything.
Now, that sounds exactly right. Those moments are well worth whatever it took for me to get here, new gray hairs, tiny wrinkles, forty-two candles and all.