As many of you already know, I turned fifty years old this past summer. I’ve always liked the number 50; it feels substantial and important—and I feel as if my feet are planted solidly on the ground for the first time in my life. When I neared the half-century mark in July, I thought depression would descend down upon me as it had when I turned thirty and then forty, but the day passed like any other; there were no theatrical tantrums or crying jags. Oddly, those feelings of tremendous loss I experienced in the past were nowhere to be found.
Maybe it’s because we calculate so much of our lives with the “whole” being one hundred that turning fifty feels like I’ve only reached at the half-way mark. Perhaps it’s because we’re all living longer these days, and there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be around for the next fifty years. Most likely though, it’s that I finally realized that there’s just no going back or going forward—it’s the right now that matters most. By being totally absorbed in each moment, there’s no opportunity for me to latch onto unhappiness. I’ve learned to stop fighting my path and just allow what’s going to happen to happen.
Before you read on, I’ll beg your forgiveness in advance, because I’m just about to repeat myself for the umpteenth time. Please not again, you’re thinking. So her daughter got cancer and she went through some huge transformation and now she’s finally happy—enough already! Can’t she find something else to write about?
Sorry, but this stuff needs to be repeated.
If you’ve read my blog, you’ll see that the central theme that runs through many of my posts is that I allowed my negative childhood experiences to mold me into a fearful woman who never believed in or loved herself enough. I wasted most of my life allowing that insecurity and sense of worthlessness to establish itself so firmly into my psyche that any seed of gratitude was powerless to sprout, no matter what type of nourishment was offered for its growth.
Dissatisfaction is a greedy beast and will steal your life away before you know it. There are huge chunks of time that have been lost to me—mainly those years when my three older children were very young. Seriously, if you ask me what happened between 1989 and 2004, I won’t be able to tell you much, except that I spent most of that time feeling worried, dissatisfied, and believing the lie that I was unlovable. I hardly remember interacting or playing with my children during that period—probably because I rarely did. Thank God for photo albums, because in those albums is the only proof that I was physically there, going through the motions: cooking the holiday meals, planning the birthday parties, helping with the homework. My children reaped the benefits of my being a good mother, but because I wasn’t thoroughly present for any of it, I’m the one who lost out in the end.
But life is often generous with second chances. When I was forty-two, I received a huge surprise: I became pregnant with my youngest daughter, Isa. Although I was terrified of this unplanned pregnancy so late in my life, I remember thinking that this baby offered me my final chance to get it right. Her birth was such a joyous occasion—the entire family was present as she came into this world squawking like a magpie with a cap of thick black hair covering her head. As I looked into her solemn eyes, I promised myself that I wouldn’t miss out a single moment with this child. I would treasure every minute I had with Isa, and enjoy each one of her milestones with utter delight.
But old habits are so terribly hard to break. Before long, I found myself slipping back into those same patterns of not feeling fulfilled. Like black mold stealthily growing behind the bedroom wall, those poisonous thoughts once again crept into my consciousness, brainwashing me into thinking that there should have been much more to life than changing diapers, doing laundry and picking up after everyone’s messes. I began to tire of my piano teaching career—it soon became a mundane chore where I perceived only that my students didn’t practice enough nor performed up to my expectations.
My discontent didn’t stop there. Although I loved my husband, I never allowed myself to really understand his point of view—I was the one who was always right and I would not give an inch to compromise. Even though my three older children excelled in all areas, to me, their successes were never quite good enough. Each day I would wake filled with a pervasive anxiety that we never had and never will have sufficient money to pay the bills, let alone go on a vacation. I was exhausted, angry and stuffing my feelings down by constant overeating. I gained over fifty pounds. I let all my good intentions slide, and once again began to distance myself from my present existence— constantly imagining a future that was better than the life I had in right in front of me.
Then the worst thing happened or as I know now, the best thing happened. I had to choose which one it was, and miraculously, I chose the latter. Well, you know the rest of the story… Isa got cancer, and I got another chance.
So fast forward five years. Everything is different. Although I still have to fight off the demons of dissatisfaction at times, I let those negative feelings waft through my brain like lingering cigarette smoke—it temporarily reeks, but after awhile it dissipates into the breeze. It has no chance to stink up my life because there is just too much fresh air circulating around for it to survive for very long.
I now take pleasure in the smallest, most insignificant things: folding a load of laundry fresh from the dryer while watching Modern Family; inhaling the fragrant scent of Isa’s just washed hair as I brush it in the morning before she leaves for school; a late night phone call from Leah wondering how my day went; the sound of Nora reading Harry Potter to Isa before bed; Nino laughing hysterically at one of my stupid jokes; listening to one of my piano students shape a musical phrase with such lyricism that I almost want to cry; and holding hands with my husband of twenty-five years in a darkened movie theater.
Before my last chance, these things meant nothing. Now they are everything. And the joy just keeps growing.
And that is why I keep repeating myself.
Because that, my friends, is the key to a happy life.