LIFE BEGINS AT FORTY, OR DOES IT?
I strolled into my forties with no advance warning of the uneven terrain that lay ahead. There is no way to reconnoiter the vagaries of growing older. I was born on New Year’s Day; on my fortieth birthday, my husband toasted me with Cognac and a generous check to celebrate the new decade, the New Year, and the new day. Such an auspicious beginning hardly prepared me for the life changes about to invade my sense of self. If, indeed Life begins at Forty, then up to now, I’ve been waiting in the wings for Act I to begin. My fourth decade has been the most challenging of my life.
I began my 40s in Suffolk County, England, a rural region on the East Coast of the North Sea. At the time my husband was stationed with the United States Air Force at a British Royal Air Force base. It was an exciting time for us as a family. I worked for Ipswich Borough Council as a Senior Planning Officer. We were well situated and did enjoy travel opportunities both within Great Britain and the continent of Europe. We could leave home at 7am and be in Paris by 6pm, in time for dinner. Or, we could catch the foot ferry at Felixstowe, sail all night and be in Zebrugge, Belgium the next morning spending up to eighteen hours in Brussels or Bruges.
Now, as I approach the Fabulous Fifties, I have begun to reassess my Fun Forties. I didn’t consciously decide…turning 40 would be hellacious; in fact, the first two years were great. Somewhere in year 43 a subtle change began. My life was no longer a grand adventure. The music…died and with it my soul: the essence of me. I was battling my way through life by now. My sense of self suffered and I careened from crisis to crisis fueled by magical thinking that I could make things work for me regardless of reality. Consequently, I made some very poor job choices which fed my growing despair.
I was always either under – or unemployed and I was so angry about it. I internalized my pain and sought relief in food and self-sabotage. I was frustrated, unhappy, and so focused on the future…I couldn’t live in the present. I was depressed, and in that altered state, I lost sight of who I am. Depression is scary; it paralyzes victims…rendering them helpless and hopeless. One day I finally admitted to myself…I was miserable. I also recognized…I didn’t know why I felt that way. I began missing me. This was the turning point in my life.
It never occurred to me to consider the past eight years as a growing experience. I was so involved in living through all those difficult times…I couldn’t appreciate even the smallest blessings. Looking back over the landscape of my fourth decade, I saw ruts in a bumpy, unpaved road snaking along a narrow, uneven precipice that turned back on itself. I spent a lot of time going nowhere and feeling bad about it. Life without vision, purpose, dreams, hopes, goals, and objectives is merely existing. Each of us has the choice to live, freely and fully, or go through the motions, devoid of feelings.
I am thankful to be alive, grateful for each new day with its blessings and opportunities. I continue to learn, grow, and redefine myself. I love the woman I have grown up to be. Granted, my stroll became a hard climb, but that’s life! Maybe, just maybe, then, life really does begin at 40 and the secret is in knowing.
©September 2015 and 1999 by Theresa Bennett-Wilkes. This essay was originally published in A Taste of Theresa: Musings From My Point of View, by Theresa Bennett-Wilkes, Holly Tree Publications, LLP, High Point, NC. All rights reserved.