I turn forty exactly one month from today.
I never thought I would be one of those people who gave the milestone birthday very much thought, but (surprise!) I was wrong. I have been thinking about it a lot for quite some time now.
I am very lucky that in my professional life I get to work with people of practically every age. Many of my yoga students are twice my age, and I regularly dance and perform with people who are half my age. I also teach and mother elementary school kids, so I am constantly reminded that age, like practically everything else in the universe, is a spectrum. And if we are lucky enough, we get to hit a bunch of different points along the way.
But forty does feel significant. The number itself certainly carries a lot of weight. Biblically speaking, there are forty days in the wilderness, forty days of the flood, forty years of wandering the desert. A google search also revealed that -40 is the only temperature at which Celsius and Fahrenheit are the same. That probably has nothing to do with anything, but pretty cool, right?
But let’s be real.
Generically speaking, on some level most of us probably consider the average life span to be eighty. And once we cross the forty threshold, we are closer to our death than to our birth on the timeline of our lives. We are no longer the oldest of the young people; we are the youngest of the old, officially closer to grave than cradle.
This brings up two big things for me. The first and biggest is looking at my own mortality. It shouldn’t really take turning forty for me to do this, but the number certainly has provided a nice frame for it. I doubt that I will ever get to the point in my life where I am not afraid of dying. But I sure as hell am not going to live in denial of death.
For at least a decade prior to her death last summer, my grandmother, Lois, had her headstone placed at her grave site, fully etched with all her details except for the date of death. For years, she was able to visit her own grave and see where she would lie beside my grandfather when her time came. This came naturally to her, and I don’t think that for one minute of her 93 years did she ever pretend death didn’t exist. After all, she was a nurse, lived on a farm through the Great Depression, witnessed war after war. Death was always there, and I can guarantee that it didn’t take her turning forty (or eighty or ninety) to come to terms with it. I really, really, really hope to live up to her example.
The second thing turning forty brings up for me is coming to terms with what I have and have not done so far in my life. It is quite easy for me to fall down the mental chasm of all that I should have accomplished by now and have not. The maturity, security, wisdom, and success I should have achieved and have not. The paths I could have/should have/would have taken and did not. But that is a shitty way to live. And even though it is my tendency to go there (and I mean really GO there, wallow, flail, etc), I am going to work hard not to. As I knock on forty’s door, I am trying to stay as committed as I can to this singular, present moment of my life, and not ruin it by rushing ahead to the future or torturing myself over past paths not taken.
In considering yoga as it relates to these two things (accepting mortality and being fully present), it strikes me that savasana, corpse pose, is an ideal space to practice both simultaneously. For those unfamiliar with yoga, every class ends with corpse pose. This is where you lie on your back, eyes closed, and do absolutely nothing. You quite literally, take on the shape of a corpse. For some, it is bliss; for others, it is torture. And for the rest of us, it is a weird combination of both. Savasana asks you to let go; to relinquish control, to ease your grip. It also reminds you, in a beautiful gentle way, that one day you will die, that your body will become a corpse, and that it will break down into the earth as all things eventually must.
In asking us to do nothing, savasana is actually asking a great deal from us. Perhaps its greatest demand is stillness. It asks that you lie down right in the middle of your life, drop into the ground beneath you, and do nothing. What better way to practice being present and not running away could there possibly be?
To close, I thought I would share a poem I banged out this morning. I love writing poetry but don’t share it all that often, so here goes nothing. Its title is the same as this post.
All things in their season
Each year at winter’s close/ I long to see things in blossom/ Shooting forth in small green trumpet/ From cold hard dirt beneath/That is ready only for crunch not crumble/Too hard still to let soft new life push through.
Each year I want these things too early/ In a time that is not yet theirs/ And part of me quakes at the fear that it never will be.
Each year my faith questions/ The season for shoots and blossoms and brand new things/ My annual forgetting that these can come only in their very own time.
I question my own season/ Just when and how my time will come/ To crunch and crumble/To let something new and green emerge/ Something that has been waiting so long underground/ For the soil to soften and give way/ To life unfolding/ Whenever and however/ It must.