Well, today is my 41st birthday and I take another step into what is actually the fifth decade of my life, if I'm counting correctly (1-infancy to ten; 2-teens; 3-twenties; 4-thirties; 5-here we are, then!). Interesting.
Last year, turning forty was not a crisis for me. It was actually a relief, the self-searching thirties left behind and the more confident forties beginning to shine. And I hold to my feelings of last year that my forties are, for me, a time of fullness, ripeness, a time of feeling more "grown-up" in the sense of embracing being a full-fledged adult, but also more able to be my authentic self, and caring less about what others think. It is also a time for embracing the parts of me that eschew some of the psycho-emotional trappings of ageing, holding onto the aspects of youthfulness that serve me and those with whom I have contact.
Birthdays are meant to be self-indulgent, I believe, so today I'll indulge in self-examination, self-congratulation, as well as a deep desire to look ahead and think about the next few years to come. Thankfully for you, dear Reader, that process will not happen here to any great extent, and you'll be spared my financial planning, educational musings, and thoughts on career development. What I think is appropriate here is for me to muse about my own self-growth, the meaning that I find in the world, and how I view my place in it. Will you indulge me? If not, there's a little red X in the upper right corner of this window and I invite you to make use of it now. You've been warned.
Having chosen nursing as a career, and having spent many years before that in service of some kind, I still see my life's purpose as being one of service. I do not necessarily see service in the Mother Theresa-like view of selflessness and pure altruism. That said, Ayn Rand believed that true altruism could not exist because even the most "altruistic" action also benefits the self-esteem of the individual performing the act, hence that personal gain cancels out the veracity of the altruism. I don't subscribe to Rand's opinionated tunnel-vision (although her books were helpful to me as an adolescent, I will admit), but I can say that I do very much enjoy giving to others, and that my giving serves me as much as it serves the objects of my actions. I think that giving is what lends my life meaning, but one lesson for me at this time is to learn to give to myself as well, and to only give when I feel it in my heart, not when I feel the energy of a "should" behind that action. My Jewish guilt runs deep, and it can often spur a knee-jerk reaction of reaching outward when I am still in an inwardly focused state. Reaching out to others when one does so out of a feeling of obligation belittles the gift and throws into question the motives of the giver. Sacrifice is one thing when appropriate, but martyrdom can be the most selfish act of all.
So for my forties, I will relinquish martyrdom and the "shoulds" which continue to plague me. I will embrace my adultness and retain my youth. I will examine myself closely, change that which cries out for change, and develop that which calls for growth and expansion. I will be good to my body, rest well, and keep my mind active and engaged. I will seek to foster my own creativity, and use that creativity in a way which engenders further self-exploration. I will honor my own needs in relationships, nurture current relationships well, and develop new ones only when they feel right, not because I feel that I should. I will also begin to let go of those relationships which no longer serve, a process which can be painful and difficult. I will most of all be authentic in my primary relationship---my marriage---and learn even more deeply what it means to love and be loved.
I think that's enough homework for the next nine years. (The hell with grad school!) Now to dive into the day and await the arrival of my love who left for New York City on Wednesday morning. Her exit from that train this afternoon will, after a five-day absence, be the greatest birthday gift of all.....