I’m staring my next birthday in the face.
I’ve well and truly left behind that decade where I had to carry around ID, wishing I was older. I am older now and there’s that unusual feeling in my gut that comes from the prospect of notching up another year, another number.
I’m at an age where I’ve begun to notice the marks that laughter has left on my face—the etchings of wide grins and the notations on my brow that amazing ideas have left behind. I’ve gained these lines and the experiences behind them; I’ve earned them and I’m sort of okay with that, kind of making peace.
But there’s that uncomfortable feeling.
I reassure myself that I’m okay with the new number coming my way and tell myself that the mad cyclone of my younger years has well and truly been left behind and I’m glad for that, really glad. There’s far less drama now and far more gentleness and self-love. I’ve pocketed a wealth of lessons around self-esteem and self-respect, learned to love unconditionally (at least some of the time). There’s a sense of being more comfortable within my own skin and I actually love that flesh a whole lot more—I’ve let go of the gnawing self-criticism (most of the time).
But as the days near that next birthday, where I will be that new number, there’s a certain level of discomfort.
It’s difficult to contemplate the years that pass, the stigma that comes with certain birthdays. Our relationship to and perception of age is a tricky beast. In Western culture we’ve been taught to be self-depreciating about it, to joke about mid-life crises and being a bit dotty in the head. We’ve made up words like cougar and sugar daddy to describe those who lust after those younger than themselves. We joke about being over the hill. Our wisdom and wrinkles are not celebrated as youth and beauty are.
When we tell someone our age in English we say, “I am 38.” We use the words: “I am.”
In other languages the expression is different. In Spanish, for example, you say ‘’tengo.” Tengo literally means “I have.” So when you say your age you are saying that you have 38 years.
You’ve gathered them, earned them, but you are not defined by the number of them, as English suggests.
The phrase ‘I am’ is powerful—powerful in a positive way when associated with words like dedicated, loving, smart and peaceful. And also powerful in a depleting way when used with words associated with growing older like forgetful, useless, helpless and depressed.
In the Western world we tend to associate age with being “past it” or not quite on the ball rather than with self-realisation and foresight. So when we marry the words “I am” with a number we, we prevent ourselves from shifting our perspective.
Words are potent things.
I am many things and don’t feel comfortable being defined by just a number. How might it feel if we were to allow ourselves to have those years—as the Spaniards suggest—to take them for ourselves greedily, like pearls of wisdom, gathered and relished, rather than to be that number itself?
Perhaps, in this, we might change our perception of our age and of aging in small ways (that might just get bigger).
So how about this…
You: How old are you this birthday?
Me: I will have thirty-eight years.
Working for you?
Let’s take it a step further, shall we?
I have kept 38 years worth of winnings and laughter (snorty, hearty belly laughter). Because I have my years and I get to choose what I do with them and how I see them, I have chosen to let go of the tears (mostly) and to keep instead the lessons from the hurts and failings and falls.
I’ve chosen to congratulate myself for how many years I’ve slam dunked so far, for the peace that comes steadily stronger with each new year I snaffle up and enjoy.
I am a book thirty-eight pages long and expanding, every new page offering more insight to the character within, the story unfolding more fluidly with each turn of paper.
How about that?
To some I am 38 years old (or young) in a handful of days.
To me, I have given myself thirty-eight years as a present this year—to have, to own, to keep.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Allison Browning
Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Jessica Diamond/Flickr