Comforting Words: On Being 45

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On Being 45

I turned 45 this year.

They say age is but a number but 45 is playing with my mind.

Milestones in my life are marked either by a number or an event and since this post is about turning 45 this past February, allow me to recall some milestone ages.
Sixteen was a big number for me. Sweet Sixteen we called it back then.  Whatever else was going on in my world that February, turning 16 made everything beautiful.
My mother had this tradition of throwing a birthday party to mark every year of my birth and I had visions of a celebration like no other for my 16th birthday. Reality was, however, that there would be no debutante ball for me as that was beyond my mother’s very meager income. In the end, my dress was homemade and the neighbourhood hairdresser did my then shoulder length hair in a Farah Fawcett ‘do. The food was plentiful and I was expecting the love of my life – at that time – to be there. He was truly tall, dark and handsome; a football player and a heartbreaker.
And that he did. Errol broke my heart that night by not showing up to open the dance floor with me. Thirty odd years later who actually shared the first dance with me is a distant memory.
That was the last official birthday party my mother would throw for me and funny enough it was to be the last age milestone celebrated in such a fashion for a long time.
1995 – My thirtieth year on this Earth. There was no party to mark this milestone. Other things had taken on greater significance and stopping to celebrate my birth was not one of them. Raising a 7 year old child, career building, trying to stay afloat financially in an economy that was tanking faster than the Titanic and grappling with my identity were far more pressing concerns than a night on the town.
The next big anniversary should have been my 40th birthday but for several reasons it was my 41st that was celebrated with a party – the first in years.  I had heard many times before that 40 were the “freedom years.”  I had no greater sense of freedom, however, on February 15, 2005. My age felt like a burden that year as my life was nowhere I had imagined it would be and in an age-conscious North America I wondered whether things would change for me anytime soon as an immigrant in Canada.  
The bright spark of my 40th year, however, was my daughter’s 18th birthday in October 2005, which was marked with a befitting celebration including a well-laid table that would have made my mother proud.  
Looking back, my 40th year was in fact the beginning of the freedom years although I could not see it then. While I deeply grieved my daughter moving out from under my roof less than a year after turning 18, it is now clear how that was masterminded and why.
And now I am 45; the midway point between the beginning of freedom and the big 50.
A preacher man asked my permission recently to tell a portion of my story. He was intrigued by the fact that my life seem to be going so well after a great big fall and yet I am still asking the question – Why? The point of his sermon, it appeared to me, was life is a big question.
My favourite preacher man, Bishop John Shelby Spong, put it best – “You are the question,” and at this midway point in my life,  I have been wondering what is the question I am posing  right now.
“Cutie, what do you want to be when you grow up?” my mother would ask me and the answer was never far from my lips. “A doctor,” was my eight year old answer because that is what my neighbor Janice said was her future career.   Gracie and Janice were my next door neighbours for years and whatever they did was what Cutie was going to do.  They went to St. Hugh’s High School and so it was my first and second choice for higher education. Janice became a medical doctor and Grace earned a degree in an associated field but I eventually asked a different question – why can I not be a leader of my country and help women come into their own?
That took me to Eastern Europe to study and where I became a mother. Since that time, the question has adapted and changed so many times – each time taking me along paths I could never have imagined.  It took me through the civil service of Jamaica, supporting and working for political campaigns, quasi—diplomatic position in CARICOM, serving a religious organization, migration to Canada, theological studies and hospital and prison chaplaincy.  Yet, with every adjustment of the question there was great learning and tools for my survival kit.
Now at 45 years old, a Canadian citizen, living in Southern Alberta, a nice house, married, two dogs, a brand new truck, a career with the federal government and doors that keep opening, you would think that question time was up.
Far from it. But 45 feels to me like an “in the meantime” moment, a place of clarity and visioning my future as an aging parent and friend to my daughter,  a loving but firm Grandmother, a Lover and Companion to my husband,  a compassionate Elder to strangers and a productive Senior Citizen.
I must admit that I am not totally comfortable with these emerging identities. There is a part of me that wants to fight the aging/maturing process.
My long legs still look gorgeous in shorts and shorter skirts. My ankles are still slender. My skin, although needing more frequent application of moisturizers and lotions, is still taut and my neck is not sagging.  No, I would not chance wearing a bikini on the beach but my butt still looks good in tight pants, especially in those seamless undies from La Senza.
My heart, however, is in a different place.  No longer do I need the excitement of a big party, the spotlight or a campaign trial. The few close friends that form my inner circle and who are part of my extended family are enough. My home in the country is my sanctuary (if my husband would ever finish the renovations).  Angello, who like me is aging, and Marley – the puppy, literally warm my heart when they greet me at the end of a day’s work with kisses. 
The only thing sweeter than talking to my daughter at least once a day and hearing her call me “Mummy,” even at 22 years old, will be to hear the words “Grandma,” from her offspring(s). 
Robert, my husband, has given this leg of the journey meaning. He came into my life when a nunnery was looking like a fantastic idea. Trials and challenges we have but the beauty of finding a partner at 40+ and one who has travelled their fair share of dark and winding roads, is that there is no need or place for bull.
Henri Arneil it was who said “To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.”
I have five years to learn this art. The next age milestone for me will be 50 and if I am blessed with the breath of life to see that day and the ability and capacity you my friends will be invited to the gala!

Blessings,

Claudette

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