I am standing on the cusp of 40.
Somehow, much faster than I ever imagined it would arrive and looking vastly different than what I envisioned as a young 20something, my fourth decade is upon me. And I am greeting it with open arms.
In the last few weeks, friends have shared their disbelief that I am here, pinning me to a younger version of myself, as if they’ve suspended the passing of time at some arbitrary point during the course of our friendship. Family have teased me about getting older, and on the brink of some queries about my feelings approaching this milestone birthday, I’ve sensed the urge to caution me — a biting of the tongue that would ladle out all manner of burdens and frailties to besiege the age that encroaches.
But I am excited to adorn myself in the wisdom and grace, the greater self-possession and authenticity that 40 invites. In the last year, it’s felt as if I’ve been growing more fully into myself, into a skin that sometimes hums with the aliveness of being my home.
I do not know what I expected this time of my life to look like. I was never the girl with visions of a fairy tale wedding day or white picket fence or a gaggle of kids at my side, so the absence of these things inspires neither bruising regret nor yawning emptiness. Yes, I have dreams and ambitions not yet realized — career goals that I’ve procrastinated on working toward, projects I’ve begun and abandoned and picked up to cast aside once again. Even now, I am aware the job I hold, while satisfying, is not one of personal fulfillment. But facing this new decade, I am preoccupied with none of these things. The outward trappings of success and achievement, a partner to share my life, a defined path leading to a visible, concrete destination — they are not, for me, the markers by which I am measuring this arrival.
No, the potent sweetness I feel is rooted in something deeper, the awareness that I am living my life and not someone else’s version of where or who I should be. It may not be perfect but it is mine to shape and inhabit, and it is a life awash in love.
My 30s were challenging years, especially the last few, ruptured as they were by giant loss and staggering heartache. In the face of so much devastating change, it would be easy to want to erase them, to slam the door on that decade with barely a backward glance. But the truth is, my 30s were also incredibly beautiful.
I entered those years, freshly liberated from a toxic partnership and propelled by the severing of those ties into a period of necessary transformation. Rising above the dark tumult that capsized us and working to unravel the noxious patterns that had bound us in both love and dysfunction, I embraced the spiritual and emotional overhaul that beckoned with a dedication and zeal that ultimately birthed a life far more expansive and joyous than I could ever have imagined.
It was in my early 30s in fact that I made a vow to live in joy, to be that spark I knew as my true nature. That hasn’t meant being perpetually happy or floating through my days on a cloud of bliss. But that joy has become a deep current within me, the wellspring I draw from, even in the wilderness of grief and longing. I have also learned to make room for the shadows and to give them a voice but the inevitable bearing of pain and sorrow has brought unexpected gifts: a deeper capacity for joy, a greater determination to seize the small wonders, the easy pleasures tucked in every day.
I was 30 years old when I became a wedding officiant, a decision that then spurred me to become an interfaith minister. That journey of ministering to myself so that I could show up in the world with more compassion, love, and openness was one I would never have envisioned taking from the perch of my self-absorbed teenage years or gallivanting 20s. My 30s broke me open to new layers of becoming, pushed me past the edges where I only flirted with discomfort and dared me to take up the space I am finally beginning to claim as my own.
In the last decade, I’ve climbed mountains, both literally and figuratively, traipsed across the world to fill my senses with the exotic, steep my wounded heart in beauty. I’ve made peace with a broken past and pledged my own brokenness to a more tender safekeeping. I’ve discovered my tribe, a group of women who see me, really see me, and realized what it is to be a true friend. I’ve loved from the very marrow of my being and been so loved in return. And I’ve risked aloneness when that love wasn’t enough to save either of us from a faltering, familiar dance.
I also learned there are some goodbyes we can never prepare for. Even though I watched my father’s health steadily decline over the last decade, sitting beside him as he took his final breath was a blessing — and a catapult into a bleating anguish like I’ve never known. He died only a year after my mother’s partner, a kind and supportive father figure, succumbed abruptly to cancer.
In my 30s, I lost — a lot. But I gained so much more to mold me into the woman ready to ascend her throne of 40. There is both a fire and fierceness that have quietly taken their place within or perhaps they were always being stoked with every boundary crossed, every “no” that masqueraded as a “yes.” Now there is a hunger to please myself, to turn my life over to the hands that for so long have lovingly and generously given to everyone else but me.
Just over a week ago, a dear friend gifted me with a plaque inscribed with a lyric from The Beatles’ “Blackbird” as an early birthday present: “All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”
That’s what turning 40 feels like. The moment has come, and I am seizing my freedom — and celebrating every step that has prepared me for this bold and heady flight.
Dearest Naila, I too am amazed that you’re turning 40. You–the epitome of childlike wonder and joy! The very happiest birthday to you, my dear friend. You have expressed here what I wish every woman turning 40 could feel: coming into your own, feeling so very comfortable in your own skin, and blossoming into an even better and wiser version of yourself. I’m sure your 40s will be fantastic! And, just wait, the 50s and 60s are even grander!! Lots of love to you!
It is such an amazing feeling, isn’t it? And I have your example that the next two decades can be even juicier and more magnificent! Thank you for celebrating me in this glorious year, beautiful friend. And thank you for being a cheerleader through so many stages and chapters that have birthed this time of my life. Lots of love right back at you!
Oh my, Naila’s 40 with the wisdom of the ages. How could you be this magnificent in only 40 years. I love every morsel of you. Thank you for sharing and Happy Birthday!!!
Much love right back at you, dear Vicki! Thanks for being among the lights who’ve witnessed and tended such a blossoming.
Yes my beautiful friend, you’ve been waiting for this moment. Fly high and free. Soar above the clouds where you belong. Happy birthday brilliant light!
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And thank you, my glorious friend, for championing that flight — and helping to launch me into this moment. I wouldn’t be ready to inhabit it without you.
Celebrate middle life on Earth! You are on your way to becoming an elder of your tribe now, and as such, you have clout! Yes ma’am! But age is just a number, — we are all timeless- and timelessness is the speed of God! Happy Birth Day– & carpe diem! You go girl! xoxo
“Timelessness is the speed of God!” I love that, Brenda! Thank you for celebrating my arrival at middle life on Earth — such a glorious place to be.
my lovely SG NAILA – happiest of birthdays to you. i hear you girl, on so many levels and in so many ways.
you rock my world with just the briefest encounters of grace and truth – thank you . blessing you as you bless me!
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Thank you for being a fellow rock star on the path, SG Anita. I’m still savoring your wonderful song!