I recently turned 42.
Yes, I have more wrinkles. Yes, I have bags under my eyes that do not go away with sleep.
Yes, I have a few gray hairs.
Yes, there may be signs of “drooping.”
But my whole body still shakes with laughter. I am the most, alive, authentic, passionate, and hopeful version of myself.
No, I don’t have things “figured out.” No, I don’t have it “all together.” No, I don’t have a savings, a husband, a house, a child, a car, or a five-year plan.
But there is one thing I do have.
I love my own company. She is my best friend, which is comforting because I can’t get rid of her.
She is deeply kind, sharp, funny, savage, a little crazy, sometimes sad and angry, but we never have a dull moment.
The faces of aging do not need to be feared, but instead, a cause for celebration.
With each new wrinkle, we remember, “We are only here for a moment in time, so let’s get busy living.”
“Conscience living” looks different on everyone. I have purposefully crafted my face of 42.
With strokes of heartbreak, loss, snot-filled cackling, constant questions, childlike joy, intentional community, risk-taking, doubt, face plants, and endearing determination.
I tore open the box of who they told me I “should” be.
I remember seeing a picture of my mom when she turned 40. Sitting at her favorite Mexican restaurant, with a huge smile, a colorful sombrero, long brown hair, a frosty margarita, and friends around the table.
She looked happy and vibrant.
She was also the mother of four kids. Lived in a suburb of Houston, took us to church every Sunday, and afternoon snacks were always prepared.
As a child, I thought I would be a wife and mom, just like my mama and my mother’s mother.
Instead, I woke up to a subtle whisper:
“You must travel. Connect with different people. Create home wherever you are. Stay untamed. Move toward fear. Get uncomfortable. Make friends with failure. Dare greatly. Always love fiercely.”
I dreamt of living on the continent of Africa, raising lion cubs, playing soccer, and “healing the world.” (Whatever that means.)
The childhood fantasy seemed far from reality, but wild imagination’s stay attuned toward possibility.
I grew up in Texas. My worldview of a woman in her 40s looked like a mom, a wife, a good Christian lady who didn’t talk back, never swore, drank in moderation (if at all).
A sweet, smiling face, full of kindness and self-sacrifice.
The archetype of “this woman” will always be in me. I am proud to be my mother’s daughter.
As a child, I was overly attached to my mom. She was (and still is) one of the most genuinely compassionate and generous humans.
If possible, I would have never left her womb.
Every day, through her actions, I witnessed the embodiment of unconditional love.
Cleaning up my vomit from the front of our old brown Suburban.
Insisting through tears, “It’s okay,” when I accidentally broke her great-grandmother’s cookie jar.
Adopting two more children, when she already had four, because they needed a family.
She was my fierce feminine protector in an unknown, scary world.
It would make sense to follow in her footsteps.
And yet, there was a relentless call.
A dark closet door swung open, faced off with my inner demons. Pulled down with Persephone, as I kicked and screamed for control.
I cried, as my parents drove me to college in Alabama. Thoughts of being separated from my mom were liver shots to the heart.
Post undergrad, I lived in a Brazilian favela and volunteered at a street children’s project. I remember landing in a strange country. I didn’t know who would pick me up. I didn’t speak the language.
A woman who wasn’t my mom stood there with a sign. We couldn’t communicate. She drove me to my “new home,” where I would shower in an outdoor bathroom, sleep with mosquitos, and get acquainted with extreme poverty.
I couldn’t talk to my mom. I couldn’t tell her I was safe. I tried clicking my heels and reciting “there is no place like home,” but the innocence of Oz failed me.
From that moment, I befriended “existential aloneness.”
Somewhere deep, I knew I had choices.
My safety cord was severed.
I would never be what a woman “was supposed to be.” I had agency and dangerous creativity to design who I wanted to become.
Every woman has a right to choose. My mother chose the brave legacy of raising six children.
I followed a different beat.
I made decisions I could not explain with reason. I spoke through collages, symbols, and faith.
I tucked my chin, down the “road less traveled,” oblivious to the risk of cultural deviance.
Through years of twists, turns, heartbreak, illness, loss, angst, failure, and “I could have done that better” moments, I finally surrendered to my unconventional life.
I have worked at an AIDS hospice for homeless men and women for over a decade. I have sat bedside as the breath left bodies I grew to love.
I stood in the fire, cursed up all sides by people dying in anger and fear. I stayed, because most everyone else got scared and left.
I sat down.
I have been a living advocate for equal rights, without protest signs, but with every breath I take.
I teach teachers of yoga. I am a black belt in self-defense. I have stepped into a ring, fighting people and the fear that haunts me most days.
I have traveled the world to sit in circles of young women as we fan the fire in our collective eye/I.
“We are more than our bodies.” “We have a voice and perilous agency.”
A beautiful kaleidoscope of opposing experiences bleed into a mosaic my soul understands.
On my 42nd birthday, I woke up alone in Nairobi, Kenya, on a pillow of zero regrets, covered with a blanket of deep gratitude.
I woke up on my 42nd birthday to an African sunrise, the same one I envisioned when I was a seven.
I am not raising lion cubs, but I do have the deep privilege of connecting with fierce, passionate, fiery women all over the globe.
Together, designing formidable bonds of hope and change.
I giggled at 42, like a schoolgirl, full of hope, possibility, wonder, and creativity.
I spent my 42nd birthday solo, reading, writing, and soaking up the equatorial sun.
(Which did give me a second-degree burn, but now I’m schooled in the “equatorial sun.”)
Sure, I may be a little scorched, scarred, and worn into, but I will roll up to death with a wild body, full of crazy love, reckless passion, zero inhibitions, no apologies, and endless stories to write about.
“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’” ~ Hunter S. Thompson