I recently hit 40, or 40 hit me, and it’s got me thinking: What’s age but a number anyway?
Most days I still feel like I’m 13, dreaming of what life will be like with longer hair and straighter teeth. Remember that catchy little jingle, “I don’t wanna grow up. I’m a Toys ‘R’ Us kid”? When I was a kid, I sang that tune a lot — first, because it’s hard not to sing it, and second, because maturing was right up there with swimming in shark-infested waters.
At night, I’d journal in my cat diary about how scary adulthood seemed. Would I be the same? Would I still be “me” if I had a husband, six kids, and a house in the middle of a prairie? Where was the prairie anyhow?
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The kid in me knew there was magic in childhood. There was something mystical about not knowing how the world worked. I lived in a lovely bubble that occasionally offered pictures, through the nightly news and the magic of Hollywood, of what life was like outside Dexter, Maine.
Those glimpses scared the bejeezus out of me.
I couldn’t watch “Unsolved Mysteries” before going to bed because Robert Stack’s cold, dead stare and spooky voice stayed with me long after I shut off the lights. All those missing people, those murderers on the loose, every creak in the stairwell or branch hitting the window was a predator coming to get me.
I feared adulthood for spiritual reasons, too. My church taught me hell was real, and I was headed there in a handbasket if I wasn’t good. Being “good” meant no lusting, no committing adultery and no lying. The pit was waiting to open wide under my feet if I should break these or seven other commandments and die before I could repent. As long as I kept singing in the choir and banished all thoughts of Dean Cain in tights out of my head, I’d be OK.
Looking back, I was a bit neurotic. I clung to my faith and my ideal version of myself because I didn’t want to disappoint anybody – not my parents, not God, not anybody. I had to get good grades, impress my teachers, and do something wonderfully noble with my life, like run a homeless shelter, or else accept failure for the rest of my natural born days.
Not doing the wrong stuff while finding the right stuff turned out to be a tall order for a 12-year-old, so I wrote God a letter asking him what he wanted me to do. As you might imagine, he never answered me (not in letter form, anyway) but there’s a remarkable clarity that comes with a few decades of waiting.
I understand now that one’s purpose, much like life, depends on growth. Fearing change or failure is normal, but fearing growth is counterproductive. If you’re not growing, you’re not living.
And I like my life. I really, really do.
I like teaching kids and seeing their faces light up when I say something funny. I like seeing my husband love our children and watching these three beautiful people grow. I like sharing all these insights with you, dear reader, because sharing my life with you is part of my purpose, too.
Sure, wrinkles aren’t fun and plucking out gray hair is no picnic, but aging doesn’t bother me like I thought it would. Life’s too short to be ungrateful for the chance to keep living it.
This story was originally published in Bangor Metro’s April 2019 issue. To subscribe to the magazine, click here.