Monday, April 04, 2005

Turning 40

We live in a youth-oriented culture that values beauty and appearance over wisdom and experience. I still remember the day that I turned 30. I dressed in black from head to toe, lamenting the loss of the prime of my life. I was a part of the Woodstock Nation. Pete Townshend of The Who had warned me not to trust anyone over 30.

At 40, I was working in a women's center at Carleton University. Many of the members of my collective were in their twenties. I pretended to be 39 for three years in a row, so that these young women did not view me as their mother. We talked about racism, sexism, and ageism in broad general terms. But when it came down to the difference between my age and their age, and how old and unattractive that turning 40 made me feel, that topic was off limits.

When I turned 50, I prepared myself for a major identity crisis. I had been severely injured by a drunk driver at the age of 28, thus, my hip joint collapsed when I was 47. I required a total hip replacement at the age of 50. The only thing worse than turning 50 was turning 50 and needing a hip replacement! I felt more geriatric than I had ever imagined possible.

Now that I'm 52, I've decided to come out of the closet. I've started telling everyone how old I am, interjecting the news into completely unrelated conversations. I'm still hung up about my age and trying to get over it. The funny thing about getting older is learning that all of the old clich├ęs are true: youth is indeed wasted on the young, the time for love and forgiveness is always right now, and aging is more of a gift than a burden.

Think about it. We either get old or we die. I'll choose the former, thank you, even though I'm not very gracious about it.

In D'Amour Road, I explore the friendship between two women who are about to turn 40. One of them is reasonably comfortable with her age, but the other has major worries about it. She sees aging as a process that involves nothing but loss when in fact there is much to be gained by getting older. We do get wiser. We do accomplish goals that we never thought were possible. We do learn from our mistakes. What would be ideal would be to take this 52-year-old mind and put it back inside a 25-year-old body, but I don't think I'm going to have that option anytime soon.

That's not to deny the fact that loss is an integral part of growing older. We do lose things with every passing decade. Oftentimes, I wish that my teenage nephews were still 4 and 6 years old! They were so sweet at those ages and they loved spending time with me. Now, I can't catch them on their cell phones or their e-mail. They're not following Aunt Sigrid's life anymore because they're off on their own trip. That pains me. It's hard to keep moving into the future when we have to leave certain things behind. And by definition, moving forward means that we need to forsake some things that have been important to us.

As time goes on, many people's lives become divided into "before" and "after;" before I was raped, before I went bankrupt, before my son announced that he was gay. (None of those things actually happened to me. My before and after include "before my car accident" and "before my father died." Those two events shaped and defined my life.) Then there are also good things that happen to us -- I'm not implying that coming out as gay is a bad thing! My point was that it's a situation that might alarm certain parents and force them to look at their child completely differently.

In terms of good things, there is "before I got married, before I finished college, before my first baby." But whenever we move on to greener pastures, we must give up something, such as our independence, our free nights, or the ability to sleep straight through the evening without worrying about an infant in the next room. Gain and Lose -- it's the cycle of life.

I'm not a religious person. I'm not even spiritual. I'm more what Woody Allen called a "hopeful agnostic." But I really love that verse from Ecclesiastes that says that there is a time for everything. There's a time to be young and a time for middle-age. There is a time to grow old and to die, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It's like sitting through a long movie; we may enjoy the show but we grow weary and want it to end. Not everyone is lucky to live long enough to see old age. Many people around the globe never even reach the age of five! Of course, that's a small consolation to someone who would rather be 25 than 52.

Please sign my guestbook and make your own comments about what it's been like for you at the turn of each decade. Is it different for women? Is it easier for men to age and gain respect or has the preoccupation with youth and beauty also affected men's view of themselves? Let's hear from you!

Sigrid Macdonald

2 comments:

alix said...

i recently turned 60 (on march 30th, to be exact), and what a wakeup call that was ... on march 29th, i looked back (a long life there, and a fairly unhappy one too) and forward (not much time, given my family's propensity for dying painful cancer deaths at age 70), and decided: i'm going to do everything that to make me remembered, both to my daughter (my only), and to my g'child-as-yet-unborn (due mid-may) ...

i've written a children's story (not pub'd yet - need an illustrator), a short story (again, not pub'd ever, i don't think); i'm enrolling in an interior design course; in march, i went to visit my sister in las vegas (my mum had adopted her out, so we only "met" via email five years ago)-- i got to know her and she's a fine, funny person ... i'm going to my cousin's island-in-the-sun this summer and we're attending her daughter's wedding at what is i know the loveliest house i've ever
seen ... in other words, i'm living, finally, and it's a new feeling ... and my grandchild, oh, my grandchild ...

i read on turning 60 (when i was 52, just to be prepared) by carolyn heilbrun and didn't understand the full meaning of the book -- now, in an instant, i do ...

i'm doing nothing that wastes my time any more -- life! to be lived!!

so, sigrid -- 52? a mere child!!

oh, and BTW -- you'd think that, for such a milestone (i'm 60, after all! i've made it through!), my friends and relatives would pull out all the stops, but no ... my daughter did, but that's all -- not my husband, not my sister, not my friends -- faugh!!

so all th best, and i'll post again when i get to the ripe old age of 61 ...

alix

Sigrid Macdonald said...

Alix, Thanks so much for posting to my blog. You're the first person to have left a comment, which is great because I want the site to be interactive.

Forget about that family history. Picture yourself living until you're 102 and tired of it all :-)

I appreciate your encouragement about my book. Get your own books out there soon! I'm sure that they're excellent. The design course sounds great, too.