I had a birthday this last week. On Thanksgiving Day, actually. And my son did as well. Long-time friends in Georgia invited us in off the unending road to a long table wide and high with feasting food and more love than can be counted. And a cake. A chocolate cake, my favorite. It was a big birthday, one of the ones with a zero in it. Since you already know the number let me dispense with the drama. (But I'm still practicing this number. I am----gulp. 60.)
This is a coming-out for me. I have not told my age in this space before, let alone using the number in the title. I know what I’m supposed to say here: that I love being this number. That I embrace my new wrinkles, the thickening waist, that I’ve earned every spot, wrinkle, roll and varicose vein, so hear me roar, you dewy-faced wasp-waisted superficial babes----I got wisdom! I got sage! I’ve got 94 year old Iris Apfel on my stage!
I know the message well because I’ve been reading and consulting many others on this whole aging thing (I’ll have a book out on it in the spring.) I’ve heard some of the over-forty crowd crow, triumphantly, as they jam another candle in the cake, “I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore! I’m free!”
When Oprah turned 60 she announced, “I’ve earned the right to be just who I am.” Another guru pronounced the high duty of loving herself “purely and truly” every day. A TV star who hit the ripe age of 44 dispensed her life’s body of wisdom by saying, “I’ve come to love my body just as it is---curves and all.” One woman in church told me, laughing, “Watch out for me, ‘cuz I’ve paid my dues, honey. I’m gonna say whatever I darn well please.”
She was turning 50. And she leads a ministry in her home church.
Hooray for self-acceptance rather than diets and plastic surgery, but the rest of this? Now that I’m a card-carrying 60 year old with a license to say whatever-the-hell I want (see, like that phrase right there! My 59 year old self would never have said that!), here’s my truth. Here’s my rant:
Can we women-of-a-certain-age just grow up?
Do we see the irony here? When we’re raising our kids, we knock ourselves out to grow them past the squawling infant, the demanding self-centered toddler. We teach them share your toys, play well with others, apologize, be kind to strangers, say you’re sorry, let others go first. As soon as our kids launch, on their way to “responsible adult,” we throw ourselves a party, speak our truths, quit teaching Sunday School and go play golf all week.
How is it that we raise our children to become responsible, kind adults, and as soon as they do, we become kids again?
But I’m not really mystified. I’m starting my third decade of raising kids. That's an exhausting parade of serving and loving. And by the time we get to this point in our lives, we’ve weathered huge storms---probably some we did not expect to survive. We’re tired of being nice to everyone. Here we are, still standing, with who know how much time remains so let’s Carpe Diem the heck out of what’s left! Just do it! Leave your husband, galavant and rant, Be angry! BE HAPPY! Speak your Truth! And most of all, love yourself unconditionally. (If you’re having trouble doing that, you can take a course by Deepak Chopra on Oprah’s channel, “How to Love Yourself Unconditionally.”)
Yes, love yourself, do, but do we really think so little of ourselves, I wonder. Do we really believe this is the best we can do----that the image of God in us, and the eternity in our hearts will be satisfied with the tiny shards of a single self when all the world and God is offered to us if we would just reach for it?
We imagine freedom and happiness lies in serving ourselves rather than everyone else. But haven’t we learned by now that the self is a smiling beguiling despot? We are our own worst tyrants. If I had to get up every morning with the dictum “I’m going to love myself unconditionally all day long,” I think I would kill myself (metaphorically) after a week. I am my own worst enemy at times, but I am never my own best friend. Because I have actual friends who are smarter and far more interesting and helpful than I am. Not to mention Jesus, whom mostly I can’t see, but who keeps showing up in the most astonishing ways.
Like this. The day before I turned 60, I get an email from a stranger. Someone who has survived a traumatic childhood, who met Jesus last year and who has decided to get baptized because of a book I wrote. And who now has hope that God will heal her of her past. I spent two years writing that book, giving up most of my free time. I cried when I read her email. I am wildly and deeply happy. Still.
Today I go to visit a couple in their mid 80's who, instead of playing golf, fly to developing countries teaching pastors and building libraries.
At 60 I don't know much, but this I know for sure:
All we have is one little life that passes too fast. We can guard the contents of our own tiny thimble or fling it out joyfully, recklessly, filling a hundred, a thousand other cups.
I choose to fling.
May all our cups run over.
(Thank you for reading! If this resonates with you, would you consider sharing?)