On a cold, dreary December day nineteen years ago, I had coffee with a dear friend at the local Starbucks. Letting out a long and disillusioned sigh, I began to cry the blues regarding my upcoming 50th birthday. Menopause had crept in years earlier, and I felt my youth slithering away with the onset of this momentous age.
At that point, in my mind, I was still 35, but the mirror screamed something different, making it harder and harder to look at the image that stared back at me. Where there was smooth skin, fine lines, along with a few deep crevices, traversed my face, which caused applying my morning makeup, a routine I often found pleasure in, an artistic dilemma.
Crinkles now laced my once-toned arms, and no matter what I bought, no outfit seemed to fit perfectly like they once did. But the hardest thing to face was watching my four children exiting the nest one by one — thus leaving me alone floundering to find a new purpose to my days. For twenty-five years, they were my everything, and now the house was quiet. Sadly, birthdays were just another reminder of life slipping through my fingers for me.
As I continued to moan about the loss of my youth, my friend sat across the table and listened patiently. When I was finally finished, she smiled gently and exclaimed, “I love my birthday!”
Astonished, I wondered how this was possible? Every woman I knew was in simpatico with my feelings on aging. Gravity was pulling at our skin; tummies were beginning to soften and pooch over the beltline, and covering the gray in our hair was a tedious monthly chore. What was her secret?
“Don’t you find it sad that our youth is decaying?” I inquired.
Suddenly, her big, beautiful blue eyes watered. Folding her napkin in her hands, she took a deep breath and revealed a secret few knew, “Four years ago, I had breast cancer. I wasn’t sure I’d ever have another birthday.” Then, she added, “With each one, I’m grateful I get another year to live.”
Horrified and ashamed, my lower lip dropped as I began to apologize for my selfish vanity. “I never knew,” I whispered. “I’m so glad you survived.”
Feeling extremely shallow, I began to take stock of my life. I’d known of people who dealt with this deadly disease. My mother was a survivor thirty years before but, at that point, I never had a close friend experience the battle.
We all know tomorrow isn’t promised. Yet, we still get caught up in the superficial and mundane. I’ve allowed my inflated ego and false pride to overshadow what is accurate and true many times but that day, so many years ago, became a life-altering wake-up call.
This December 31st, I will turn 69! The body has definitely changed even more. I’m not that young woman at 50 who can run miles without needing to stop to catch my breath. My memory seems to be slipping as I repeat the same thing over and over (much to my children’s dismay), and hearing loss is the latest ordeal I learn to live with on the horizon. But because of that one moment, I made it my mission never to begrudge myself another birthday.
No, instead, I revel in the day that is just for me, for it means not only will I be allowed to explore another year, but that I continue to be blessed with decent health for that exploration. Talk about the best goodie bag to receive at any birthday party.
Oscar Wilde once said, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” And, as the artist of my existence, oh, the creating I have left to do. So bring on the birthdays — I’m ready!