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When I was 21, my husband (then boyfriend) took me to Virginia Beach to celebrate my birthday.  It was a magical trip, one that we have always remembered as pivotal in our relationship.  It’s when I really knew he was “the one” (he claims he knew that way before I did, but was happy I had caught up on that particular weekend). The trip was filled with romance and hope and possibility.  We were young and in love, and our whole lives were stretched out in front of us.  We were at the bottom of a magnificent mountain that was daring us to climb, and we were sure we could sprint the whole way up, because we were immortal super-heroes, and we were in love, which actually meant, we could fly up if we wanted to.  Piece of cake.

On Wednesday, I turned 40.  It’s hard to believe that 19 years have gone by since that first magical birthday weekend with my husband.  When he jokingly asks me, “Where have you been all my life?” I can truthfully respond, “For half of it, I have been standing right next to you.”  Crazy.  He surprised me with another trip to Virginia Beach to celebrate my 40th.  We hadn’t been back since that weekend so long ago.  This trip was just as magical, but instead of being filled with unknown possibility, it was rich with nostalgia and a shared history.  The romance and the love were just as big and wonderful as ever, but in so many ways, it’s better now – we are fully aware that we aren’t super-heroes, which means that the fact that we, mere mortals, have climbed together as far as we have on this magnificent mountain is much more impressive.  It was a wonderful way to celebrate this birthday, and I am so grateful for all of it.

As I reflect on past birthdays, I realize that at each “big” one so far, I have had an incredible feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be.  At 21, we were at the beginnings of our adult life, on the brink of marriage; hopeful, idealistic, wonderfully young.  At 30, I was pregnant with our first child, which is precisely where I wanted to be at that time. Now at 40, I am keenly aware that I have been blessed with a beautiful life.  The years in between have not all been easy by any stretch, but the challenges have colored my memories and contributed to my wisdom as richly as the joys have.  The beauty of 40 is that I have both hindsight and foresight:  Knowing how much more I know now than I did when I was 30, 20, even 10, only makes me giddy to see what could possibly be coming in the next decade – even the hard parts – because I know that there is beauty on the other side of hard, just about every time, if you can survive it.  I feel a growing respect for those who have been here longer than I have; who have that many more experiences coloring their wisdom and appreciation for living.  Filled with gratitude, I have been mentally compiling this list since my last birthday.

40 Reasons 40 Is Better Than 21

When I was 21, I hadn’t yet:

1. Married my husband;

2. Experienced pregnancy (an experience I am grateful to have had, and am also happy is over; as is my husband and most people who were around me during those times);

3. Experienced motherhood;

4. Owned my own home;

5. Picked out the family dog, and had him choose me as “his person;”

6. Brought home a second family dog (who has chosen my husband as her “person” – I am glad he is getting a turn);

7. Lived anywhere as a grown-up that really felt like “home.”

I had never:

8. Been to the Bahamas, Mexico or Ireland;

9. Climbed a mountain;

10. Hiked the Grand Canyon;

11. Sat down at a poker table in a casino; or

12. Run in a race.

I hadn’t yet:

13. Paid my own rent;

14. Bought my own car;

15. Finished my master’s degree;

16. Discovered that pieces of paper, although helpful, do not determine a person’s abilities or intelligence level, nor do they have the same value as experience;

17. Figured out that there are many different means to the same end (and that my way may not even always be the best);

18. Started my own business.

I had not had the joy of:

19. Experiencing the deep abiding love that comes after the infatuation-period in a relationship (as much fun as the infatuation period is);

20. Watching my husband become a father, and falling in love with him again in a new way each time one of our children was born;

21. Seeing the two of us combine in both children as they grow and develop into their own little selves;

22. Having Christmas morning in my own house with my own family;

23. Making the friends whose children will grow up with mine, and who have become an extension of my family;

24. Learning from and being humbled by my children;

25. Hearing them laugh;

26. Comforting them when they cry;

27. Talking to them the way my mom talked to me about life and its lessons.

I didn’t:

28.  Completely understand that there truly aren’t “favorites” with your kids – that you love them each infinitely, individually, unconditionally, and more than yourself, and when the squeaky wheel needs the grease, you give him or her the grease.  This does not mean you love him or her more or less than the other(s).

29. Truly appreciate my parents and their humanity in this adventure called parenting.

I didn’t know how:

30. To meditate;

31. To really listen, hear and empathize;

32. To communicate clearly, fight fair and walk away when there was no good reason to argue;

33. To be a good partner.

I hadn’t yet discovered:

34. Yoga, Thich Nhat Hahn, Buddhism and its connections to the Christian tradition in which I was raised, and the simple spiritual practice of kindness and compassion that is helping me to live with gratitude and wonder;

35. The trio I sing with on Thursday nights.

It hadn’t really hit home:

36. That my mind, body and spirit are intimately connected, and that there is beauty and peace in their balance;

37. That I have the ability to follow my heart bravely, without worrying about what other people are thinking, and that often, I can better help people to be happy when I am true to myself and not worried;

38. That I am beginning to understand the real meaning of “forgiveness,” and that it applies just as much to my own shortfalls and mistakes as to the things others do that may feel hurtful or that I don’t completely understand;

39. That I am no more or less deserving of love or forgiveness than ANY other living being on the planet;

40. That I am truly blessed with a beautiful life, and that all of these lessons, all of these experiences, are a work in progress; that life truly is a journey, not a destination.

When I was 21, I was at the base of the mountain, looking up.  At 40, I am not over the hill; I have been climbing for a while, and the climb is hard but good.  I have great company on my climb.  I am at the top of the mountain, and the view is spectacular in all directions.  I plan to camp here for a while. And when it is time to start the journey down the other side, I look forward to the new perspective, wisdom and beauty that I haven’t even begun to fathom.

40 is fabulous.  Happy Birthday to me 🙂