I’ll be forty-seven this Saturday, which is only bittersweet because I worry about how many birthdays lie ahead. As long as I stay away from magnifying mirrors I’m generally satisfied with what I see. I am occasionally horrified by catching an odd angle (do I look like that? Yes, yes, I do). That may have less to do with age, and more with the jarring experience of not always being the person who resides in my mind’s eye.
In his book Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart
, Dr. Livingston says the keys to happiness are someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to. It’s hard to argue with that logic. Comfort, engagement, and optimism.
Buddhism suggests that what exists right now is all I can know. That disregards the basic human need of imagining what still could be. We are wired to look ahead. There is no love like the one we have for our dreams.
Yet, when I think of the dreams I still have for my life going unrealized, it’s intensely painful. One wrong turn with my health and I lose my hopes for a partnered life, my breast (read:attractiveness), and my ability to lead an active life. At least, that’s how it plays out in my mind at 11p, 2a, and 5a.
And, that may be right. What I’ve had is all I get.
Even before cancer I’ve long thought that if I could stop the wanting of things I could be satisfied in the here and now. I watched the Temple Grandin Ted Talk
some time ago and was struck by the part where she credits her productivity with a complete rejection of romance. If my health insurance covered a partial lobotomy to remove the part of my brain that keeps me hopeful, I might have opted for it by now.
I know this isn’t about fairness. By any measure I’ve been gifted with a life most people across time would have gladly accepted. Most of my limitations have been of my own doing, but I’m paddling as hard as I can to get out of my own way.
My luminescent friend Ceili Leahy
died at nineteen. Sitting in a pew at her memorial service, it occurred to me I’ve wasted more time than she was alive. There is no fairness to be found in burying bright, empathetic, brave, young women. I continue to hold her in my heart, and find some comfort from that.
As you can probably tell, I am a bit unsteady heading into this birthday, but there are a few things I know without hesitation: I like myself, even more as time goes on. Having a body to enjoy is a miraculous thing. There is beauty in showing up for each other. I’m going to wear a gorgeous dress, and celebrate what is good right now.