I turned 38 on November 1, an age that, up until the day before my birthday seemed just like 37, 36, or 35 -- no big deal. Turning 30 hadn't bothered me, in fact I'd enjoyed it. I felt more "mature" when I hit my third decade. So why, all of a sudden was I so anxious? I mean, 40 -- that's an age that people have meltdowns over. But 38?
Awhile back, I went through a few-month period where I was convinced I was going to die -- not that day, but not too far in the distant future. I've since attributed this fear to the incredible stress I had been under. I just didn't believe I'd have the energy, and possibly not even the desire, to live another 40-50 years, so at some point my body was just going to say "what a dump, I'm leaving" and keel over. Luckily, I was able to be convinced that this doomsday scenario was overly dramatic and that I'd continue to whirl and skip about on this Earth for awhile longer because, honestly, I enjoy life. In fact, I'm pretty sure that part of the insistence that I was not long for this world was a result of the fact that I was truly enjoying life for the first time. With my luck a giant bus was probably gassing up in preparation for mowing me down unexpectedly at a cross walk.
Fast forward - we're back at my birthday.
Oh, and a hurricane blows through. Bad Sandy.
I was trying to take my birthday really seriously and was determined that I would use it as the starting point for some new resolutions intended to better my life, upgrade my behaviors and wash away all my sins and transgressions. Amen. I used blackboard paint to create a large writing surface on the wall (embellished with organic, druidic spirals and tree-like shapes, of course), where I would write these new self-imposed rules - my own ten commandments. Except, rather than delivered by God on a stone tablet, they would be written down by the legibly-challenged left hand of a mere human on a pre-war, plaster wall.
I sat and thought about areas for improvement. I stared at walls. I put my head in a cat's belly. Anything I could do to quiet my mind and meditate. The cat belly thing was not a good idea. Funny how felines have no patience for self improvement. Live and learn. Hiss.
As usual, my mind had trouble focusing on the mission at hand. Each new thought, seemingly concrete, branched out into a writhing mass of tentacle thoughts, grabbing random memories and additional, related areas for improvement. What started as, "I need to drink more water.", was quickly joined by, "Well, your arms are getting a little skinny too. You should actually use that gym you bought. While it does make a beautifully efficient drying rack for sweaters and such, it is really intended to build muscle. And why don't you eat better too? You know what happens when you turn 38, don't you? You immediately get fat."
The thought, "I need to write more.", was joined by a tangle of other ideas, including, "About what? What about the other 5 drafts you've started. you certainly need to pick something, don't you? You can probably ditch that poem you started about the homely coworker you envision moonlighting as a common street whore at the docks, but some of the other stuff was good."
In the end, I wrote only one thing on the blackboard - "You're not always young."
It was with this thought that I have attacked the days following my birthday. I say to myself, "You're not always young. You've already watched year after year leisurely stroll by as you kept planning to be something, rather than just being it. Just do." Through this I've realized that my fear of death is warranted. I'm almost 40. People die every day from sudden things at my age, such as a random head injury, two of which I've already incurred this year, as a result of my waning ninja-like jumping abilities.
And so, I'm just doing it. Writing this blog. Taking on new assignments. Trying to appreciate more the heavy dose of writing that my current day-to-day job as a communications director feeds me, rather than resenting it as an energy sucker. And, best of all, I'm giving myself a break. That was commandment number 2 - "Thou shalt not beat thine own ass." If I start to put too much structure around "just doing", then I might as well take out the word "just". "Doing" is work. "Just doing" is freedom. It means simply existing in the moment and letting it carry you to the next moment, and the next, until something forms. It does not have a strict goal, or a set of to-do's that make you feel guilty that you've not completed. It is letting your passion course through you, from your mind, out of your hands and into the world. It is zen and therefore can't be hurried. I find that not giving myself quotas and deadlines unleashes my creativity, which becomes addictive. Now, a lapse in writing doesn't result in self loathing, but in an itch to do more, because I'm having fun.
I've had a lot of time to practice this new mentality and I'm making progress. That bitch Sandy roared in and wreaked havoc on all of my birthday plans which, honestly, is probably the nicest thing she did. While others lost homes, property and power, I was lucky. I was peacefully locked up in my apartment planning and generating ideas. When I made my way outside, I was presented with the beauty of the snow that followed the week after and touching scenes of others "just doing" what was in their hearts, helping with the cleanup, delivering supplies to aid workers or simply doing laundry for those who are working in the worst of it near the water.
The somber and introspective tone of the week following the hurricane, combined with the brilliant glow of the human spirit it evoked, was the perfect backdrop for my birthday and my resolutions for the coming year. None of us are always young. And upon realizing that, we can try to make every day after that realization more impactful and more meaningful than the ones prior. I'm still a little afraid of dying, not because I fear my soul leaving my body, but because I've got so much that I want to create before my eyes close that last time.
So, I'm going to continue "just doing" until something grows from it. Right now, I'm going to practice commandment number 3 - "Thou shalt teach felines patience." I've been meaning to do it for years.