In the near future, I will turn 40. I will have crawled and walked on this planet for four decades! When my mom turned forty, her friends held a funeral for her. They all wore black. They decorated the house with black wreaths, black flowers and black streamers. And, of course, they garnished the cake with icing that gloated, “Over the Hill” in my mom’s face. I was a teenager, and I thought to myself, “It must be a terrible thing to turn forty. How sad.”
Over the last few months, I have been dreading turning the big 4-0. I have come up with imaginary scenarios where my friends and colleagues suddenly think I am too old to have fun, look young, have energy or contribute anything inspiring or new to the world. I even thought about sending my family members and same-age friends private messages on Facebook begging them NOT to write Happy 40th on my Wall. I even considered removing the ability for friends to post on my Wall.
Being a performer, I started looking ahead at theatre roles like Daisy in Driving Miss Daisy, assuming I would be blacklisted from younger roles and would have to go through a dry spell until I could play much older. (I’m not neurotic or anything.) I was convinced that my students would no longer relate to me because they would shelve me in that “much older person” category. I thought about lying about my age when asked in the workplace.
I lost sleep, indulged in Netflix shows that dealt with either immortals or female actors older than me who look amazing. One day, I needed assurance. Others, I needed denial and fantasy. Recently, at a party with newer friends, I decided to reveal my big secret, that I was turning forty, to a couple of trusty confidantes. When I shared the information, there was no shock. In fact, none of them even cared. They didn’t even seem surprised (somewhat do my dismay).
After thinking about the non-reactions of my friends and having a philosophical conversation with my rational, wise husband, my perspective began to change. My friends are comfortable being their ages. They don’t have a head-case-style issue with age at all. So, my age, even my character-age on the stage, is completely irrelevant to them. They care about my talent and my skills on the stage, not my age. They care about the person I am, not how old she is.
My husband reminded me that if I were living in a more primal, tribal time in our history, I wouldn’t even have lived this long. Even if I had lived that long, I would not understand how to count time in the manner that we do today. Besides, no one thinks of 40 the way people did when my mom turned that age. And if I look back at pictures of Mom at 40, I look A LOT like her. She is beautiful, youthful, inspiring and full of energy at 40, so I must try to believe the same could be true of myself.
So, the best way I know to turn 40 is to say, “It’s my birthday, and I’m 40, and that’s awesome. And I am so grateful for all of the wonderful things in my life and that I have had enough years to put myself in this quandary. Bring it on!”
For now, I am still 39. One day soon I will be 40. I don’t think much will have changed. I don’t think I will have developed new fine lines or rhino-horns overnight. I don’t think my hair will have turned solid white or that no one will want to talk to me or hire me anymore. But maybe I’ll be a little wiser as I come out of this silly little age closet. Less afraid. Who knows? I might surprise you. Or even better…myself!