This writing exercise is a little like that. Four years ago today on my thirty-seventh birthday when I made some time to write, I evaluated all of these aspects of my life, two concepts notably being my recognition and acceptance of my then single-ness and beginning to let go of the idea of having another child, which both stand in stark contrast to now. Now I am just days away from my third anniversary with my beloved partner, with whom I have experienced relationship challenges but also some the most positive relationship successes I have ever known, and a year and a half into the life of my enthrallingly delightful and then unexpected third child.
I feel fascinated by how rapidly and drastically the road ahead of me, at that time, was about to change terrain, and I had no way of knowing! I just had to move along willing to accept whatever direction my life moved. And this process has become the essence of how I see life being functional, for myself or for anyone. Acceptance is crucial. Sure, we have some agency, we make day to day choices that certainly impact our future outcomes, but there are absolutely no guarantees. None whatsoever. Willingness to work with the circumstances over which we have no control and present to us something different in every moment seems like the only way to achieve happiness or peace. This is how I try to move forward all the while doing the things I can to influence my own life.
For example, when I last wrote a birthday reflection I was in my last semester of graduate school. When I started that program to become a professional counselor, my goal and hope was to one day start a private practice. Today I can say with a feeling of great gratification that I have done exactly that. I did not immediately do that, nor am I in the midst of a robust, busy work schedule providing ample income, ha! No, not at all! Not yet. I envision that being down the road and will keep working toward it.
In the meantime, I really enjoy being engaged in this work that feels deeply personally satisfying. Because I am on my own in creating this private practice, I can credit myself with every success - the fact that clients show up at all I owe to my diligence in marketing, the ways I choose to present myself to the community as an available support person, which particular services I choose to offer. The enthusiastic positive feedback I have received from the folks I work with is another confirmation of, yes! I am doing a good job at this job I have chosen. The soul-deep satisfaction I feel as I witness authentic healing and positive change occurring for these people who have honored me by allowing me to support them on their journey is rewarding far beyond a paycheck could ever be. Will it always go this well? I don't know! But I feel like I do better for myself and those I work with by acknowledging and appreciating the success and positive outcomes in the midst of them, even if some time ahead of me that all changes.
But, anyhow, 41. The successes are awesome. The aging... it's starting to get challenging. I wish it weren't true, but it is. It's been a lot of years now that I have struggled with nearly daily pain. I've done a lot to try to get to the root of it and ameliorate it, and all the while I have believed it possible to not be in daily pain. I might be reaching the end of that belief. It is not coming with any great mourning, but more of that stoic acceptance I explain above. If I am going to be in pain, I still want to do everything I can to support my body in not being in more pain, and I am trying to accept that this is my reality and still be able to feel peace and joy amidst it. It's not awful, it could be so much worse, and truthfully I am very, very healthy, and I am extraordinarily grateful for that.
I am starting to have insight into my elders as I am more and more often experiencing a mindset that feels archetypically "older." I seek more quiet than I ever have, choosing to listen to classical music over, say, Jane's Addiction, much of the time. I go out much less often. Having a little baby does influence these choices, but this lifestyle also feels more "me" now than ever before. Ugh, I feel myself cringe a little as I admit it. I always wanted to always be a badass hellraiser, I think. And, I know I still can be, and shall on occasion. But I am experiencing a waning.
And I really, really, really hate to admit it, but some of the activist fire in my belly is dwindling, too. Wow, writing that sentence brought me to tears. A lot of tears. I think because it is admitting defeat. I think I need to be crystal clear here - I will never, ever accept that the way our culture is operating is reasonable or appropriate. The American Way and the way of life in many parts of the world is absurdly harmful to the Earth and all of the forms of life connected to it, including humanity. I absolutely know there is a better way to operate society, beyond the shadow of a doubt.
I think it is highly unlikely that barring the complete restructuring of the way humans live on the planet that I will ever feel differently. Increasingly, though, I feel less like shouting about it, less like demanding more from everyone I know to help create change. I have not stopped, and have no intention of stopping, making choices that feel most highly aligned with my values and vision of a truly healthful co-habitation on planet Earth. But I give myself more leeway here and there - like I might throw away a glass jar that is filled with disgusting and hard to clean crap. At one point in time I wouldn't, couldn't knowingly put something into the landfill that I thought could otherwise be recycled, but with age has also come increased awareness. I understand better now the complexities of the problems with recycling relegating it a not optimal solution, and I also have a more comprehensive view of the scope of The Problems, and goddamn, The Problems are BIG. They are so very much bigger than my valiant efforts at recycling.
These problems are so big that I can now admit that I feel defeated by them. For the first time I am beginning to accept that maybe the new world I envision isn't possible, and if it is possible it is exceedingly unlikely to happen in my lifetime. For someone like me, whose driving purpose behind almost every choice I have ever made is the consideration of how it would impact EVERYTHING and especially the development of the beautifully functioning world I believe to be possible, this is monumental. I feel somewhat lost. I feel grief, anger, outrage. I have always felt those emotions regarding The Problems, but now I experience them a bit more quietly, impassively. And it feels so fucking cliche', which is so fucking annoying! The old folks give up, right? The youth fight hard but then when we get old we get all complacent. Blargh. I'm anything but complacent. But my needs are different. My awareness is different. And, I am not giving up. I still recycle and wash and reuse fifte-million little plastic bags rather than use new and try to grow food and shop places that might just be ever so slightly less horrible than all the capitalist-loving, sweatshop-mongering corporate overlords out there, and most of all I try to make a true day to day impact on the people around me through service and kindness. And I still think you should shop at your local co-op. :) But how this all sits with me is different now, perhaps more in my mind than anything, but this is my self-exploration and this is what I have observed.
In other news, my face is changing. That's kind of weird. I see my beauty, really own it and know it. And I know that I will be doing work in the coming years to feel at home in and welcoming of the different qualities of my skin, my body, the differences in the way I look. My friends faces are changing. Sometimes I catch sight of a friend who I know to be a really groovy, hot, dashing person, but I see them unexpectedly and my full knowing of them isn't in the forefront of my awareness and I see them as another might see them - a middle aged lady. So I am in the process of integrating what I guess were formally separate concepts of "really groovy, hot, dashing person" and "middle aged lady." I'm working on it, and simultaneously fascinated as I discover my own internalized biases against agedness.
Forty-one today and the way I decided to treat myself was to go to the local tea shop and have some snacks and give myself some time to WRITE, which I still love doing, and still haven't figured out how to structure my life in such a way that I can prioritize it. There is part of my forty-one year old self that wants to be frustrated that I don't write or do yoga or meditate every day and that the house somehow manages to never be totally clean and organized the way I want it to be. And there is another part of my forty-one year old self that has to admit and accept that I make choices every day that impact my ability to do those things - I choose to spend a lot of time focusing on my delightful little baby who I totally chose to bring into my life and who makes messes and takes a lot of work and attention, and I choose to offer my time to community work, like being the president of the board of directors at my local co-op, which is awesome, rewarding work while taking a lot of time, and I choose to spend time most evenings cuddled up watching movies with my yummy, introverted partner who desires that kind of connected but quiet activity at the end of the day, and I choose to still go to half a dozen festivals per year, and I choose to stay deeply connected to many dear friends and exercise my social leanings frequently, if in different forms than in previous years, and all of these choices result in having to accept compromise and the reality that I cannot devote all of my time to any one thing, and therefore won't do everything, can't do everything. I do what I can, and my forty-one year old self is getting better at accepting that and learning to make peace with it.
I have a friend who once described my thirtieth birthday as a family potluck turned punk rock keg party turned overnight psychedelic freak out, and he was totally right. It's possible that I could want to have another birthday celebration like that in my future, but I think it gets less likely every year. I'm eager to learn how my forty-eight year-old self, my fifty-six year old self, my seventy-seven year, my ninety-three old self will choose to celebrate her birthdays. At this point I am glad to be able to say that I trust in her wisdom and choices and look forward to learning what she has to show me, teach me, and how she will certainly surprise me. So mote it be.