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October 5, 2019

I’m 40 & Learning to Love this Big, Beautiful, Magical World Again.

 

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Forty years old.

That’s nothing to some people and unimaginable to others, depending on your current age. To me, it’s weird because it’s my birthday next week. It’s not weird because I’ll be 40, but rather it’s bizarre to look back at my life thus far. It feels like a life I don’t know anymore. Almost as if my first 40 years on this planet were a different lifetime.

I look back at all the heartbreak and battles I fought against others, for others—and most importantly, within myself. However, I let my mind guide me back to the triumphs, the moments I prevailed, and at times endless laughter. The collection of the last 40 years makes my heart expand and a grin form on my face with a twinkle in my eye. I made it.

All those years sculpted me into the woman I am today, which was so readily apparent to me as I sat watching my fiery, yet oh so sweet, ginger nephew celebrate his second birthday a week earlier. On a blissful sugar buzz, as he opened gifts, I looked around to see and feel all the love that surrounded him, including mine.

How hearing “Surfin’ Bird” or “Burning Down the House” brings a smile to his face that lights up the entire room, as he either flaps his arms like a bird or dances freely. How hearing his little voice yell “TT” (that’s me) means “Get over here and dance with me! It’s our song!” As I scoop him up into my arms we dance and spin around the house, while he laughs with an enormous smile.

One of his favorite things to do is to sit in the middle of the purple hostas in their backyard. He just sits there. Soaking in everything. Holding the leaves and flower petals. Sniffing them with delight, and at times pretending to sneeze. Looking up at bright, blue sky peeking out behind the tree limbs filled with changing leaves above him. Almost as if he’s witnessing beauty for the first time. These were the simple joys lost on me for most of my life, that I now get to see through him.

When did I lose my wonderment for life? When did I become so disillusioned about the little things that make up this glorious life I live? When did all my memories become hellish rather than heaven? Often I have to consciously think, “is this a memory of mine or one someone told me?” As I’ve questioned those memories more and more, I remember the moments when I was truly blissful. To the outside world I had a wonderful childhood but trust me, I did not. Sh*t I didn’t even like myself. When I wasn’t shy, I was rage with an attitude. Sassy would have been an understatement.

However, now when I drop into my child’s eye of the sweet, compassionate girl behind the pain, I see moments of joy. How it felt to learn how to ride a bike, getting my first pair of pristine white ice skates and finally getting that spin down while wearing them, and seeing my first watercolor painting matted and framed.

As I transitioned from a teen into my 20s everyone moved in different directions. Whether it was college, jobs, careers, marriage, or having children, that time became the tipping point. We think during those years that we know everything but really we don’t know sh*t. We are all somehow still trying to grasp onto each others’ hands like a game of Red Rover while our opponent runs toward us. Only, that opponent is us. The reflection of our self. So you squeeze your hands together a little bit tighter desperately trying not to lose each other while in the midst of the challenge of change. When in fact, we all needed to let go, because in the middle of that change some of us, including myself, stunted our own growth and expansion.

Once I arrived in my 30s, it felt like we were all just a swarming of fire ants trying to find our place in life, while still figuring out life itself. However, if you’re brave enough to dive deep within yourself, you will realize there’s nothing to figure out but yourself.

Life is about learning who you are at your core. Self-mastery, if you will. That’s life. That’s it. That’s the mystery. You need to live and experience all of life in order to continue to learn about yourself. The highs, lows, and the in-betweens. Let life be your coach and teach you what it has to offer. Take what you’ve already learned and expand on it—like an open notebook of blank pages that have yet to be filled.

After my nephew’s birthday party I thought about these things, from childhood to adulthood, and how I’ve lived my life until now. I thought about my nephew and admired how this small child already had such a huge sparkling zest for life. I realized all the love he had surrounding him had also been surrounding me. However, for most of my life, I either never recognized it, or never felt it.

As I sat quietly, I asked a question I’ve posed numerous times to myself, however this time, I looked at it from a different perspective. Almost a childlike perspective, “what do I want the rest of my life to be?”

These were some of the answers that instantly came to my mind:

1. Children teach you what true, unconditional love means. They are brought into this world knowing nothing but love. We’re the ones who teach them hate. I was taught self-hatred to a disparaging degree and it never allowed my heart to truly be open. My nephew broke that part of my heart wide open, which I thought no human could ever have the capacity of doing in this lifetime. I choose to love unconditionally, including myself, with strong f*cking boundaries.

2. Taking in the beauty of nature is essential to life. Mother Earth is gorgeous. A straight-up fox when you stop and look around. She will ground your ass faster than anything else. My favorite thing to do as a child was to ride my bike to the end of our road to stare at Lake Michigan. I still stare at the big lake with bright eyes. She’s a healer.

3. Being silly and playful is immensely fun and needed, but please leave your sarcastic mask that hides your truth at the door. When did being so serious all the time become the adult standard for how well you’re doing in life? Wear the brightly colored outfit that makes you happy. Dance around with glee. Read the fluffy, fun book. Put on the too-small-for-your-face emoji sunglasses while making funny faces so your nephew laughs.

4. Be adventurous. Remember when you couldn’t wait to play a new sport, go to the park, or play with a new toy? Those were adventures to you as a kid. Even building a fort was an adventure. I couldn’t wait to get to the park to spin round and round on the metal bar because it made me feel like a gymnast. Now I’m grateful when I can hold a new yoga pose using predominantly my left leg without falling over. Some days to me that’s a mini-adventure. Adventurous doesn’t have to mean skydiving or rock climbing. It can be something small that may be huge to you. So go on that trip, hike that trail, or take that class.

5. Playdates. This can be taken many different ways but for the sake of this article, I’ll keep it PG. Meet new people or spend time with your existing friends by having coffee, dinner, or taking a class. Be fully present, mindful, and listen. We’re intuitive beings. We know when you’re present and when you’ve checked out. We pencil people into our lives like meetings instead of making time for them. Truly enjoy the experience of their company. And please for the love of everything get your f*cking phone off the table and look at the person seated across from you.

These are only some of the joys we take for granted every single day. They’re more of the things we think about in retrospect. Hindsight isn’t just 20/20 but a missed opportunity you may never get back. I’d give anything to go back to the day I chose to study at home instead of studying at Lake Michigan with my friend who is no longer here. I can’t get that moment back. It’s gone, forever. I learned from that experience.

So on the day of my 40th birthday, I will be helping out by watching my nephew because I cherish every moment with him, and take every opportunity to spend time with him. I know there will be a lot of dancing and laughter, and who knows, we may even sit in the purple hostas together while staring up at the sky.

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author: Leah Dreja

Image: Art$uper$tar / Flickr

Image: theunfurlinglotus / Instagram

Editor: Julie Balsiger