This week I enter the final year of my thirties. It's oddly surprising to find myself here at the end of my fourth decade of life, to suddenly realize that my next birthday will begin a new decade and that I am firmly in the center of what is commonly referred to as "mid-life."
I am not dismayed by age or aging. Perhaps I would be more saddened by the lines around my eyes or the bits of sag here and there that seem to arrive overnight had cancer not strode so boldly into my life at an age when I still believed myself invincible and that time was something that stretched out luxuriously before me with no end in sight. Perhaps there are survivors out there that lament the grey at their temples or the softness that doesn't disappear with an extra run or two, but I've never met one. I am, inherently, deeply grateful for each trip around the sun I am granted, each year that I am given to work toward the potential I carry within me, to strive to grow and stretch just a little more and perhaps even put some small beauty back into this world that has given me so much.
Like so many others, I was deeply moved by Amy Krause Rosenthal's open letter published recently in the New York Times (if you haven't read it yet, grab some tissues and go read it now, I'll wait right here). Her writing is that perfect combination of poignant, self-effacing, humorous, and brutally honest that every person who desires to put words on paper aspires to and this letter had me snot-crying by the halfway point. It struck me for the 875 millionth time that cancer is a fucking rat bastard thief and that, in this particular case, it stole not only this woman's future dreams and plans, this husband's partner, these children's mother, but it stole this amazing voice from the world. Fuck cancer. I don't mean that in cutesy hashtag form, I mean FUCK cancer. Fuck it.
But I digress. In addition to being so very moved and in awe of this woman, her letter did what every story of someone stolen by cancer does, especially when it's ovarian cancer. It reminded me that I'm damn lucky to have survived, and that my body carries within it a lurking murderer who may, at any time, choose to steal my future and my husband's partner the way it stole my ability to be a mother. In his book Half Empty, David Rakoff says about remission, "The assurances are momentary, at best half comforting, like being told 'That's not a man in your room. It's just your clothes draped over the back of a chair casting a shadow, see? However, there IS, actually, an insane, knife wielding murderer loose in the neighborhood. G'night.'" Seriously. Did I mention fuck cancer?
So birthdays. Birthdays aren't lamented by me and neither is aging. I am so grateful to have made it nearly four decades and I am not beyond begging the universe for four more in any way that might get the message through. I love being alive and I love the incredible mess that being alive entails.
I also feel the way I think most people feel as they get older, a bit surprised at how the time has passed, at the disparity between the self in my mind and the one in the mirror, to realize that if I'm lucky enough to get forty more years, I'm somehow already halfway through my precious time. And I find how others perceive my age utterly fascinating. In a class I took in January, I was patronizingly asked by an early twenty-something if I knew what a smartphone was, and then ten minutes later, I was told by a dismissive sixty-something that I was too young to really "get it" yet. Apparently I am both too old AND too young to know anything worthwhile. Hilarious.
All of this rambling to say what? To say that, holy crap...I made it to 39, y'all! I am here and I am breathing and I am, in this sweet moment, free from diseases that want to kill me. I will celebrate this gift of time and of years, of life and of lessons, of mistakes and of mess. I will bow my head in humble gratitude knowing that I did not earn them, that I was not more special or more deserving than those who did not make it this far. I will go forth in this final year of this whirlwind decade of my life and I will do everything I can to inch toward the exceptional human I know is inside of me (as is inside of us all). I will do my very best to bring more love and laughter and forgiveness and compassion and courage and beauty into this world that at times can feel broken. I will lift up others so that we might all rise together. I will reach and I will fail and I will get up and reach again.
And I will live. Loudly and without apology, I will live.
We've been doing a bit of bouldering recently and have been loving Bull Creek Park along Austin's famed Greenbelt...