The festive room overflowed with friends and family as I watched my eldest son carefully light each of the 50 candles that had been bound together and adorned with sparkly silver ribbon. And all I could think was, “OMG we are going to set off the smoke alarm!” And while my lacy jade green dress and I were both thankful for the Spanx that restrained my stomach, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would still be able to inhale sufficient oxygen to put out the gargantuan blaze before me.
Fifty candles generate a lot of flame.
When I turned 40, I dubbed myself “Grateful Linda.” Grateful Linda embraced the mantra “growing old is a privilege denied to many.” I have known too many people whose lives were undeservedly cut short and I realize that every candle on my birthday cake should be wholeheartedly celebrated. My Facebook page is bursting with adages advocating graceful aging.
You know the ones I’m talking about:
“Age is just a number.”
“With age comes wisdom.”
“Time is precious. Use it wisely.”
So I composed my “Before I’m 50 List” and included entries like:
- Work out regularly. And I’m not talking sleepy-time yoga. I mean like lifting weights and stuff.
- Explore Italy by foot.
- Earn an MBA to prove I’m clever (and please my Dad.)
I had this getting older thing under control. Easy peasy. No problem-o. Piece of cake.
Everything was going along tickety-boo.
Then I turned 49. Suddenly, I only had one year left to do all those things I was supposed to do by 50. Within no time I was planning my birthday bash, but my “Before I’m 50 List” was still missing crucial ticks!
I needed more time. My dress would never fit. My candles were only half-lit.
I was not enough yet.
Fifty candles means that there are more years behind me than in front. Referring to myself as “middle-aged” is a tad ambitious. I am not in the middle – I have climbed the mighty mountain and am well into the swift descent. I am only five years away from those iconic golden arches offering me a senior’s discount.
This realization spurred a downward spiral towards the dreary place I vowed never to visit. I became that person. You know, the person who grumbles about creaky knees and hips. And wrinkles. The person who whines because she can’t find one of her twenty-three pairs of dollar store readers that inhabit every room of the house. And let’s not even talk about hot flashes and belly fat.
I began to complain about the very gift that too many people are denied: growing old.
Who was this person and where did Grateful Linda go?
So now I was feeling old and shallow and guilty. While chatting with a girlfriend one day, I confessed my feelings and referenced my incomplete to-do list. “But Linda,” she said, ”think about the things you did do that were never even on that list.”
So I thought.
Instead of looking at what those 50 candles didn’t represent, I had to look at what they did. I decided to make a different kind of list. While I might not have accomplished all that I thought I wanted to, the unexpected paths that distracted me turned out to be the most inspiring and fulfilling walks of my life.
Grocery bags may have been the only weights I lifted, but I did overhaul my diet and now eat only whole-ish foods (red wine is a whole food, right?) and feel better than I have in years.
I may not have toured Italy, but I did share a breathlessly exciting moment with my husband as we leaped off a mountain together in Switzerland.
No fancy MBA degree graces my office wall, but I did discover my authentic calling. And it cracked open my soul and gifted me with the creative life I’ve always dreamt of. (Bonus: My Dad is still proud.)
So there I stood, face-to-face with the intense heat of 50 flaming candles, surrounded by the people who decorate my life belting out the world-famous birthday song. And it dawned on me: I am enough already.
I smiled and inhaled as deeply as my compression garment would allow and, with one mighty puff, I extinguished the blazing inferno.
The road behind me brought me to this very moment and while the unknown road ahead is still scary, I trust it will lead me well.
Grateful Linda is back.
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Linda Stuart is a Life-Cycle Celebrant / Ceremony Officiant located in Toronto, Ontario.