I turn forty this year. You may or may not regard forty as something to remark over but considering that I refused to call my thirtieth birthday for what it was and instead insisted upon calling it my twenty-ten birthday, forty is something I’m taking notice of. It’s landing on me so very much differently than my thirtieth did, though. Whereas that one came rolling in like the giant stone boulder on Indiana Jones, this one is every bit as fluttery as a single feather, drifting from the sky.
There were at least a dozen ideas floating around in my head–how I wanted to honor the occasion. Some were elaborate, like giving $40 to 40 people and telling them to spend it kindly. Others were too cliche, like list 40 things I’m grateful for. In the end, I decided against capitalizing on the round number (see also: I couldn’t come up with anything kitschy that moved me) and settled on a casual, meandering approach. One thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to spend twelve whole months reflecting on this to-date life of mine. At the end of this calendar year, I want to look back and be able to see a bread crumb trail of moments and memories. I want the day itself to mean less than the sum of the year surrounding it. I want to etch in the fact that who I am this year is not a solvable equation represented by a number on a page but more a graph plotted with the most distinctly poignant highs and the most achingly desperate, woeful lows.
I talked to Gramps the other day and when I hung up the phone I cried. He’s lived twice my lifetimes; he’s eighty. In many ways, he’s the same now as he was all those years ago when he teased with the wrassling song.
Sissy is a friend of mine. Me and her wrassle all the time.
Same in that he’s an excellent conversationalist and that if I get him going on certain things (like the current state of political correctness) the tone of his voice alone betrays his facial expression–an indignant grimace that a sketch artist and I as a team could perfectly illustrate. But he’s different in many ways, too. At eighty, he’s lived a lifetime marked by all those things that bring us joy and many of the things that grow us both older and weary. Very pragmatically he discusses the matter of time left to live as it relates to one’s quality of life. He speaks of logistical arrangements and peppers the conversation with words like will and memorial. I understand that these are among the thoughts that sit with him now but the neon sign quality of them just really pisses me off. Not at him, of course, but at the realization that he won’t always be there to pick up when I call. What he matter-of-factly shrugs off as the circle of life, I crumple beneath the weight of.
So there’s that.
But there’s more. Other.
I have this friend, Heather, who–without fail–knows just what to say. Do you have one of those? I am not that friend. I wish I was. I feel so crippled when someone entrusts me with a heavy moment or a broken heart or really anything that requires the right words. I never have them. It doesn’t matter how long I have to think of them–they don’t come. If it’s someone I love then I’ll nestle up shoulder to shoulder and carry the weight right along with them but they might never know it because the words catch like moths in my throat and for fear of sounding trite I might say nothing at all. I pray instead, because prayer is my super power. This friend of mine is really the superest superhero among us though because she does both and she does them so well. Together with Jesus, Grams and my husband, she has carried me through so many of those achingly desperate, woeful lows. They four are my life pallbearers.
These are the January graph points that stood out to me: Gramps and Heather. On the surface each can be so easily classified as either high or low. But it’s never so simple as that, is it? Without forty years worth of love lived out, I wouldn’t shed any tears over Gramps. And without the pierce of pain shared, Heather’s words would be weightless. It’s that. It’s that razor-sharp line bled over by moments too stunningly complex to classify. That’s what I want this slice of lifeline to record. That’s what I want to remember about forty–all year long.