Birthdays are powerful milestones. They give us permission to drive, to drink, to rent cars in Europe. They are a sweet opportunity to reflect upon where we are going, what is left to do, and who we are yet to become. But most of all, birthdays allow us to celebrate where we have been, the other people with whom we've journeyed. On such occasions, the love of family gives Hallmark the most power to make us misty, but one should never underestimate the joy to be found in the gift of good friends.
On that note, most of my life I've heard turning forty marks the top of some metaphorical hill that has a giant, black arrow pointing adamantly towards a future of steep decline. Gone are the sun-dripped days of youth, the green offshoots of possibility. Gone are the hot afternoons of summer in which one commands each waking hour of day's prime. Certainly, any reader of glossy magazines like Cosmo knows all that's left for women after forty is the shaded autumn, the somber ochre and muted yellow that are like dying embers in the fire before we're enveloped in the coming clouds of grey. Or plastic surgery.
Depressing stuff, really: becoming middle aged in America.
So when I turned forty, three of my good friends approached my birthday with the honest recognition of what that truly means. There would be no sparkly confetti, hired clowns or noisemakers at a pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey sort of keg party one might host in previous decades. Rather, those who know me well did the appropriate thing for my personality. They threw my youth a funeral because my youth is dead.
The semi-somber event was held at an outside table on Canton Street in Roswell. Amazingly, even though the calendar proclaimed my life is over, I didn't feel any less vital or any more wrinkled as I sat sipping wine in the warm night breeze.
This is perhaps because the mock wake for bygone days was conducted Dixieland jazz style, replete with black balloons, Mardi Gras beads, and a funeral dirge played loudly over the restaurant's speakers. Besides, like the belles of a ball, we were holding court, we four queens of twilight. Adorned with stylish black fascinator hats in silver touched hair, we stood out from the crowd like a proper royal party: noble, dignified and tastefully accessorized with feathers.
As the evening wore on, we must have been glowing with the warm recollection of my past decades - flushed pink with that second bottle of pinot - as we attracted a steady stream of folk who stopped by our table to convivially ask why we were so dressed up. A black and yellow Harley made a u-turn on the street simply so we could nod and wave in the driver's direction: that cupped palm sort of wave reserved for monarchs. A complete stranger in flip-flops quietly laid the plucked stem of a snapdragon by my dinner plate before melting away into shadows.
I felt that evocative power that emanates from the collective aura of people our age: the permanent beauty of women who are finally comfortable in their own skins.
Then the cake came, and unlike that child who carelessly blows out her candles while wishing for a pony or a facelift, I found myself thanking God for the simple blessing of spiritually symbolic processions led by friends I hold in high esteem.
After all, I know leaving youth behind is not really like going to a funeral. Rather it's like discarding insecurity, uncertainty, and frivolity on the path already trodden. It's no longer looking to Cosmo for affirmation but finding wisdom in the realness of other women. It's understanding that reaching the top of any mountain means we will finally get to see the blazing seasons that stretch before us on the other side, on the way down.
Indeed, all birthdays are about taking the time to assess where we are on our life's journey. If you think about it, whether twenty, forty or ninety, the more we see of time, the less time we seem to get, so one must be careful not to waste any of it.
For my part, I say rest in peace, youth. I loved you. Now I raise a glass to toast those family and friends who have made the past worthy of celebration. I knock glasses with those who walk forward with me into the future. I suspect it'll be a glorious adventure.
May the second half of life commence!