Turning 43 caught me by surprise. It was so… well… underwhelming. It was so unlike turning 40, which I spent in NYC wearing frocks, eating cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery, sipping apple martinis, sighing over jewellery at Tiffany’s, reliving scenes from ‘Big’ at Coney Island and even being pick-pocketed (thanks for that, btw). The only thing turning 43 did, however, was remind me that I was now seven years away from 50. Which would be awesome (I like the idea of ‘half way to…’), but for now I was just 43. And single. And still working too many hours. And in the aftermath of dad dying, when I wasn’t being pulled into the well of my own grief, I was worrying about my mum.
Just to be clear, it was not the getting older aspect that was worrying me. Mind, body and spirit, I’m ok with this part of it. I don’t mind the way my skin fits differently to my body than it did in my 20’s. Back then my skin might have been tighter and smoother, but within it my confidence hung suspended like a pendulum, swinging wildly with my every movement. Age had given me more self-confidence, patience, and an appreciation for, and awareness of, the need to care for the vessel, as well as the spirit within. I like my laugh lines, most days, and I’m even growing accustomed to the little grey eyelash that appeared one day and seems to be the only one that doesn’t fall out.
Rather, it was more the lingering sense that 43 didn’t amount to anything. And as though to reinforce this, I could count on one hand (actually three fingers) the number of cards I received. Clearly others thought it was a nothing birthday as well. (Or was that karma reflecting back my own habit of forgetting birthdays?)
As I sat there sipping champagne on my balcony, watching the sun set on my 43rd and reflecting on the past twelve months (which to be frank had been hard), I began to think about the coming year. Was 44 to also be a nothing year? Slipping by in the blink of an eye, marked only by another mystery grey hair and more kilometres on my Nike App? The answer of course was, only if I let it be so.
We can all map our lives by the bruises, the heartbreaks, the births, the deaths, the graduations, the report cards, the awards, the falls and the standing back up, the getting back in the saddle. And yes, even the birthdays. But these are not the only things that define us. We are also shaped by our ability to change, to adapt, to grow and by our own self-will.
Making something of 43, and 44 and beyond, didn’t need to be about cards, or presents (although, yes please) or setting off the smoke alarms with 43 candles. I didn’t need to make a bucket list and ‘get busy’. In fact I needed to do the opposite. I needed to listen to what my heart was telling me it wanted to do, today, and tomorrow. And to do that I need to be quiet and willing. And as soon as I was, it began to unfold.
I understood that creating this “something” was about being authentic, with myself. It was about intent and complimentary action. It was about courage and the willingness to let go – of control, of perfectionism, of worry, of… well you get the point.
And so I decided to honour turning 43, as the blessing that it is, with 43 changes. Shifts in thinking, if you like. Not resolutions, not items to be ticked off and considered ‘complete’. But entire rewrites, do overs, start agains.
I started with yoga. Because in my head, for the past 43 years, I had always been the person who did yoga in the mornings. I was the person who would clear their mind, hold the pose and breath deeply. Only, in truth, I wasn’t. My yoga mat was reserved for ad hoc weekly classes, occasional stretches after a run, but mostly as a prop to convince all who saw it (myself included) that I was living ‘that life’. And that yoga mat represented so many other areas in which I was doing that. Aspiring to be something, but failing to follow through and enable it.
So the first thing I did the next morning was get out of bed, unroll that yoga mat and begin a sequence of sun salutations. Stretching and breathing. Breathing and stretching. Committing to holding the pose until I didn’t wobble and wasn’t thinking of the externals, but was heavy in the movement of my own breathing, the lengthening of my own body as it broke through the confines of my desk job. Until I actually became the person who does yoga in the mornings (and drinks champagne in the evenings) in a place other than her mind.
They say it takes a month to form a habit. I’m two months into my habit. My first shift has happened. And 43 suddenly feels amazing.