This is my last Christmas, my last full calendar year in my 30s. For the last few years I've been watching my peers hit the 4-0 mark, and I've been taking note of their conscious and maybe unconscious reactions to that milestone. I've been carefully thinking about how I feel about a new decade of life, what the number means to me, and what I hope to reflect outward of the (almost) 40 years I've lived.
I've seen several people dive into what might be classified as a "midlife crisis." Running like a fool back into their 20s (or younger!), trying to reclaim something from their past. Dressing the part, speaking the part, behaving impulsively and recklessly. I pity them. By trying to relive one of the less substantive parts of life, I believe they are missing out on the comparative depth and richness that should accompany this one.
I will not do that.
I am not afraid of the number, and I don't think 40 is "old". Older, yes. A new stage of life for me, yes. And yes, I can admit that I have regrets about choices I've made in earlier decades, but I try not even to be terribly hung up on those, clinging to the hope that I haven't made any unnecessary choices for my personal progression, painful as they may have proven themselves to be.
I have always been a woman-watcher, even as a teen. Trying to see what characteristics I hoped to find in myself, what traits to aspire to as I grew and moved through the seasons of life, how to really qualify beauty at the stages of a woman's life. I can think of individual women who represented beauty to me at various ages, who modeled grace and refinement, and not all of them were skinny or wealthy or knew current pop culture. They were each mothers or nurturers, they each had a light earned from spiritual progression, and they each had a servant's heart. There were other things, like the joy they received from creating a home, and beauty for those they loved. They each continued to learn whether it was in a formal institutional setting or prayerfully at home. They each let their lights shine that others might see.
And I did.
I don't know what 40 is supposed to look like physically, because it's so different for each woman. I have gray hair (which I will continue to dye) and I have laugh lines and baby wrinkles (which I will continue to put cream on). I will continue to nourish my body with good food and a moderate amount of exercise, but not because I'm fighting age. Rather, I know what a lack of attention to health brings and I don't want that to dampen any acceleration of wisdom or spirit that I hope to gain as I continue to age. I want to honor this vessel that has borne my children and allowed me the privilege of being here, experiencing mortal life.
But I want to emotionally and more important, spiritually act my age. I have not had an easy time of getting here. I have trudged (and am trudging) through the trenches, an opportunity I do not all-together begrudge. I am less opinionated, less critical, less judgmental than I was at 30, and 20. I am more tolerant, more forgiving, more tender-hearted, more compassionate. My prayers are more sincere, my pleadings more visceral, my curiosity more intense and leading, my desires less selfish. And my awareness of my flaws more honest and humble. (Good thing I'm more forgiving.) I know a bit more of who I am. Some of what I see makes me grateful, some makes me ashamed, but I can remain hopeful because of what I know about the atonement of Jesus Christ and the experience I've had thus far with time and what the Lord can do with a person's desire to grow.
I am softer around the edges, literally and figuratively speaking. But the parts of me that need to be firm are becoming chiseled and defined. I know the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. I know it. I know the Book of Mormon is true. Again, I know it. I know that the little things don't matter as much as I previously may have thought. I know that repentance is real and forgiveness is real, that prayer is not only real, but infinitely more powerful than we can comprehend. I know that choices really do carry (or drag along on shackles and chains) their consequences. I know that beauty is a gift that is earned.
I want to earn it.
And I want to move forward, not backward. I'm lucky to have come this far and to have my collection of lessons learned.
I think, from watching the women that I admire, that 40 is when it starts to get really good.
I'm down with that.