Today is my fortieth birthday.
I used to measure my successes and personal accomplishments by a depressing yardstick (as I'll explain below). Since late 2004, I shifted and began to measure my life and accomplishments against Markos Moulitsas, who I've had the pleasure of meeting TWICE. Lemme tell you...he's a tough act to follow, and I'm far short of what that man can do.
For many people, a common refrain surrounding "milestone" birthdays is something along the lines of "it's just a number". I guess I'm just not that sanguine, or maybe even that well-adjusted. As I have watched a number of friends and family become seriously ill and die in the last few years, and have experienced my own issues, the meaning of my life without the context of my mortality has been a loudly-nagging concern of mine heading into today.
The wayback machine is fired up beneath the crispy, hot, melty orange cheese curd:
Twenty years ago, I was a raging, bigoted conservative. In fact, my very first political involvement was testifying and protesting AGAINST the California Desert Protection Act in the days when it was championed by Alan Cranston. I was appalled by Barbara Boxer and insulted by Dianne Feinstein. Fresh out of college, I landed my first job as a collection officer for a large thrift, calling delinquent mortgage borrowers and sending them off to foreclosure. Between my rigid black-and-white worldview and the lingering bitter fury about a very unhappy and painful childhood, I was in no way suited to the job. I was insensitive, even downright callous. I was ambitious, misguided, and, frankly, very naive. I believed that if I worked hard and played by "the rules" (as defined by my beloved corporate employer), I too could achieve yuppie-hood. I wanted no kids, no family ties, no limits....just money, freedom and power, and not necessarily in that order. I was hugely selfish and hurt a lot of people during those years.
Ten years ago, I was broke, broken, bitter, scared, angry, and confused. Mostly alone, I spent the last $20 I had celebrating my birthday with my then two-year-old kiddo at Chuck E. Cheese. On that day, I met the young lady who would soon become my much-younger roommate and, eventually, a friend I cherished (and do to this day). I was as far down as I'd ever been...but I've always thought of it as payback: I'd been such a slimy twentysomething that karma was sending me into my thirties with nothing and filled with doubt and terror. If I was oblivious in my twenties, I became excruciatingly aware in my thirties. The decade began with divorce, alienation and despair, and continued with losses that mounted both personally and professionally. It wasn't all bleak, but often, it was what I'd imagine Christians believe is hell. I became a liberal even as my financial fortunes improved, realizing that at the end of the day it's not about money, but about relationships and love. I really wanted to transform from the self-centered, right-wing, oblivious neurotic I'd been into a liberal, outwardly-focused, conscientious semi-neurotic woman. And I think I've succeeded, sorta.
Now, time races by. My hair is rapidly turning white, and I can't tell you how many digital pictures I've Photoshopped the wrinkles out of. Two of my dad's siblings have died within the last seven months. My friends have sick parents and family members now, many of whom will die this year. I realize that I vaguely remember my parents at the age I am now and silently thank the stars that the similarities between us are few. I watch my child slip into early adulthood and my father fade into Alzheimer's just as my father watched me as a preteen when his own mother succumbed to the same fate.
I want to grow and make things now, not buy and discard them. I want to know people and respect the good things about them, and to work with them to find common ground without giving up my own truths. Most of all, I want relationships...with those I define as family, with my friends, with my environment and with my evolving sense of self.
I don't like forty. I hate it. I hate that each day goes by faster than the one before, and that no matter how much I try not to wish time away it flies, anyway. I don't like losing my youth. But I'm trying to teach myself that the stupid ideals about women of youth and beauty are bullshit (which I've always agreed with but apparently never really believed) and that my values really ARE valuable.
I'm losing my youth. But life is teaching me things that are more important than youth...life is teach me LIFE.
I've been a member of this community for seven years, and I love you all.