I spend a lot more time looking at my wrinkles these days. I'm certain my forehead and neck have acquired at least eight new half-moon creases overnight. Vanity sometimes drags me into old photo albums, where I flip pages reminiscing and coveting my "younger face."
My friend Laura and I recently shared plans to celebrate our fortieth birthdays that land three weeks apart this month. When I asked Laura if she'd reflected on our milestone and the years leading up to it, she admitted, "I'm really obsessed with my face."
Standing one inch from the mirror, she spread her frown lines with her fingers to flatten them out. "We look older right? Like, way older," she said, reading my mind.
I do look older. I feel older too. While I don't want to focus on this, it's hard not to.
At lunch with my friend Miles the next day, I focused on my blessings while she spoke about her forties being her most confident and peaceful decade. She said she felt bleak when her husband died of cancer at thirty-six, but now she has come out of that sadness and into a very grateful perspective.
How could I forget, I thought? Her husband died at thirty-six. He didn't even get to see Forty. Suddenly, the wrinkles and my obsession with them seemed incredibly self-centered and lame.
Turning forty IS so reflective. And what you read it true: Despite the wrinkles, I really do feel more comfortable in my skin than I ever have. I don't react the way I used to and try to control things anymore. Awareness of my behavior makes me so much more peaceful, just like Miles said. But the biggest change I see in myself is the way I handle unexpected and difficult situations.
Example: My mother and I enjoyed a daylong seminar at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County last weekend. We meditated, talked about mindfulness and grace, cried, giggled at the exercise where we had to stare into each other's eyes, and left feeling totally awesome. On the way out, my mom slipped in the rain and sliced her knee wide open.
So, instead of going to dinner at our favorite place, we hauled ass in my car to the emergency room, where we were forced to actually practice everything we'd learned that day. Imagine that.
Instead of complaining about our impending multiple-hour emergency room visit, we took pictures of my mom's knee and talked about how the slice looked like a mouth (so gross). Instead of freaking out about how we'd get her car out of the retreat parking lot, which was practically flooding in the rain, I called an Uber and hitched a ride back to the property to rescue it while a doctor stitched my mom's leg.
Instead of bitching when I got in her car and saw the empty gas tank, I filled it up and bought myself some gummy bears to keep me company on the ride back to the hospital. When it was all said and done, we still made it to dinner and enjoyed some delicious cheeseburgers after all.
It doesn't always work out this way, and I still occasionally revert to angry baby mode. The point is, we made the best out of the situation and got through it, with only nine stitches instead of four hours of pissed off attitudes.
I didn't used to operate this way. I could say my patience ran thin, but the truth is, at times it didn't exist at all. That whole night, I wondered what the evening would have looked like just five years prior. I would have made it (something that didn't even happen to me) the end of the world. Instead, the experience brought my mother and me closer.
I could make a list of forty things to be thankful for at forty, but I already told you about the most important one: I handle the ups and downs of life like a grown-up now. This is a skill I've worked on, that's taken a long time to get right. At forty, I finally see that when I behave in a loving, kind, and patient way, all of these positives come back to me tenfold.
That is the best part about this big birthday: I no longer feel like the fighting fish shadowboxing upstream, determined to do it my way and get what I want. Now, my wrinkles and I do our best to float in the flow of gratitude, less attached to what comes next.