A year ago, I started posting about fashion and beauty and health, because at forty-four I felt myself embracing this decade of my life fearlessly and with confidence, joy and hope. Who better than a forty-something writer to sing of her surprising entrance into freedom and grace, and to cut a swath of positivity through our culture's dense thicket of messaging intimating that for women, this fourth decade signifies the beginning of decline and her first physical endings? I sat here at the computer on a fall day just like today and heard God's encouragement in my heart to change my focus, gentle my voice and tell the simple truth about getting older and feeling good about it. I adored the idea.
I'm in the autumn of my life. It's a glorious season. Arguably the most glorious season of all.
But I have to confess to you that it's not all glory. I have to let you know that amidst all the beauty of autumn, there's also the fear of the coming winter. And that, quite simply, I'm scared.
Days after I officially turned forty-five, I got my first dose of harsh reality. My body, as if it had glanced over my shoulder, spied the date on the calendar and dug through the jammed folders in my desk to find my birth certificate, placed them side by side and did the math, immediately began conducting its normal womanly business in a freakishly random pattern. I'll spare you the details, suffice it to say that this randomness heralds the beginning of an ending all of us women know is coming but for which I haven't spent much (any) time preparing myself. And it's not that I'm sad about the end of having babies. I had no plans to have any more babies. But the hormonal changes that accompany this closing of the tiny-human factory scare me. I just don't feel ready to face this life without plenty of progesterone.
I'm scared of vain things like gray hair and hair loss and getting more wrinkles, age spots and dry skin - dry everything - and of becoming saggy and baggy. I'm scared of more practical-life things like running out of energy before my children do (well, even that much sooner than my kids do, because they can already keep going hours after I'm pooped as it is), losing my mental acuity, becoming (even more) forgetful, or getting sick.
I find myself wondering if Al, who turns fifty next year, or my parents, who have stealthily crept into their seventies, will stay healthy or even stay alive for many more years. My last two grandparents died two years ago. My childhood best friend lost her precious father last year. Losses like these have a way of waking you from your blissfully ignorant slumber. It's horrifically morbid, but suddenly, in my forties, death has become this certainty I have to face. In the coming years, not in some far away land that I'll somehow be better-prepared for than I am now, lies inevitable loss of life and livelihood. And I'm terrified by that.
If I had more faith, if I truly believed, I wouldn't stumble at all in my knowledge that this temporary life compares nothing to the full and eternal life God has promised me. I should rejoice that I'm closer to the day I'll drop the shackles of this aging body and walk in communion with Jesus, in sheer perfection and holy beauty that makes my human face look like a dull mask. I should be dancing for joy to be a day closer to Heaven. Shouldn't I?
But at forty-five, I honestly feel as if I have only begun to live. Only found my precious husband, only started to love and enjoy my two children, and yet the meter just keeps running and running, winding down my hours so quickly. Oh, I rail against that meter. I rail against it and picture myself wildly stuffing found couch-cushion and seat-crack coins into it, buying more time, more youth, more energy to dream more dreams and make them real, to get better and better at being a wife and mother and writer and friend and person.
So the other side of the forty-something joy and freedom coin is that yes, I've begun to truly come into myself and live my own life. But now? The clock is ticking so fast, and have I made the first forty-five years count, or have I squandered them on what hasn't mattered? And if I've done that, how will I go forward, sure not to squander what's left?
How do I set aside the fear of aging and fully embrace the rest of this glorious life, live with equal courage in the wonder and struggle of it, the joy and pain, and make the rest of my life sing, make it soar, bring it honor and dignity?
How do I embrace the joy of autumn and reject paralyzing fear as I gently begin to prepare myself for the coming winter?
This is where I really am, at forty-five.
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