I Never Expected Age 40 To Look Like This


The clock says 8:16 again. While I am sure it is largely coincidence or my imagination, that number is always illuminated regardless of where I am… at home, work, or in my car. 8:16 taunts me, causes my stomach to lurch and my heart to pound because this number represents my birthday: August 16th.

I am struggling with this particular birthday more than any previous year because it has arrived too quickly. I expected to be in a much different place at 40 years of age.

I know that ultimately I can choose to perceive this milestone as a blessing. I can celebrate with my children and acknowledge all that I have accomplished in four decades of life. Alternatively, I can choose to dread it, ignore the day entirely, and even remove the date from my Facebook page insuring only my mom and a childhood friend who has never forgotten my birthday will call. I think my head is actually somewhere in between….the gray area.

I took a painting class several years ago with a teacher who repeatedly told us to find the color in white, a perplexing and frustrating task for me. As I sat staring at a still life that included a bowl of fruit and a white ceramic pitcher I concentrated, I focused, yet all I could see was fruit and a white pitcher. I listened to him describe the colors he perceived, I watched others turn their blank canvas into unique interpretations of the arrangement, with complex mixtures of color, yet all I saw was a white pitcher. How does one paint a white object on a white canvas? Try as I might, the colors continued to elude me.

Then one day as I was walking out to my car I noticed the clouds overhead and something within snapped. I anxiously returned to the pitcher and for the first time I saw the shadows and shading, followed by various hues… darker ones at first, like purple, then blues and greens, and finally bursts of yellow.

For much of my life I have seen everything as black and white. People are good or bad. Every question has an answer and every problem has one solution like a mathematical equation. It is important to always follow the rules, stick to a plan, and do as you are expected.

At 40, divorced, and mom to three, I see many alternatives now and I no longer want to do just what is expected. Yes, the number bothers me. My career has been detoured. My family–my reason for breathing–is unlike what I had pictured now that my divorce is finalized. But with each day I am trying to avoid the grays, seeking colors where there once were none. My canvas does not look like I imagined it would, but I also never thought it would be so vibrant.

In the last decade alone: I have gotten married; cried at the Arch of Titus in Rome; fell in love with yoga; found a great job doing what I love; became an advocate for daycare, having once been utterly opposed; learned to eat fish; overcome my fear of public speaking; lost my remaining grandparents; beat infertility; traveled throughout New England; witnessed my first gay pride parade; lost a baby; had twins; discovered the thrill of acting; returned to Israel, though only briefly; lost a great job; recognized the need for marriage equality; made good friends and lost a few too; became a homeowner; attended my first al-anon meeting; found the perfect job for the here and now; huddled with our children during a superstorm; and gave birth to our last baby.

And several weeks ago, I painted my toenails bright blue to commemorate the end of my marriage. So as I approach 8:16 with humility and trepidation, I pray that I am granted many more years to splatter paint on this whimsical work-in-progress that is my life, all the while continuing to discover colors where I never thought I would find them.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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