A Moment of Gravitas

I always thought I was going to die young. My death was probably going to be the result of something dramatic and tragic, like a major car accident or a freak plane crash. I simply could not (or would not) imagine myself getting old.

I turn 40 this month. Four decades of living. How did that happen?

It feels significant and weighty. There’s a gravitas about it, a seriousness to this moment in my life. I usually get pretty sentimental around birthdays: reflective, imaginative, and sometimes melancholy. Birthdays are funny that way. They mark the passing of time and they silently ask you: How are you spending your “one wild and precious life?”*

Last winter I wrote my own obituary for a graduate class on human growth and development. The assignment asked us to write our obituary as if we had died of old age, so we imagine ourselves progressing through the different stages of human life. Compared to the great works of fiction that some of my early 20-something classmates wrote, most of what I wrote I had actually already done. I grew up, graduated high school and went to college, traveled through Europe, got married, had three kids, bought a house, started my own business…and that’s when it hit me—I could be halfway through my life! My life is happening. Am I paying attention? Is this where I thought I would be, where I want to be?

Waves of emotions have washed over me since that assignment, but as my birthday approaches, I am feeling the tides shifting again. There’s a sense of pride, accomplishment, and contentment for all I’ve done, mixed with a sense of deep longing, a building desire, and new imagination for what the future holds. It is a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, I feel a sense of urgency to slow down so I can savor it all just a bit longer, to take in every detail, feeling each moment in an embodied and present way. On the other hand, I feel the intense pressure to hurry up because I’m running out of time to do it all. I have wild fantasies of what author Julia Cameron calls “imaginary lives”** that highlight all I still want to do. And the math doesn’t lie: If I die at 82 in my fictionalized obituary, I’m nearly halfway done and this body may not keep up with all the adventures I have planned.

Then I talk myself off the ledge: Take a deep breath. Settle back in. There is so much time.

As I approach this milestone birthday, I am seeing it as an invitation to pause; to reflect back and look forward.

I’ll be saying goodbye to my 30s and all that the past decade has held. I began my 30s as a stay-at-home mom. The birth of my third and final child—my only daughter—stirred up so much in me emotionally and also ushered in a new era of physical health issues that brought me to my knees. Severe migraines took me out for days at a time, often resulting in trips to the ER. I missed so many things due to migraines that it is difficult to revisit those early years of my 30s. I’m saying goodbye to years that have been full and painful. At times they were a slow slog—the disorientation of motherhood, the sleepless and anxious years of early child rearing.

Other times the years flew by like a burst of light, tremendous goodness happening so fast that one could almost miss it—like watching the incredible (and rapid!) growth of my oldest through his middle school years. These years have been stunning and surprising. I’m ending my 30s in the thick of a graduate program in counseling psychology where I am coming into my own and absolutely loving the disruptive and transformative process that is taking place inside of me. It feels hopeful and expansive and exciting. Saying goodbye to my 30s is holding all the goodness and all the pain together. It’s acknowledging how these past ten years have shaped and (re)formed me into the person I am becoming.

I can imagine myself growing old now: living to a ripe old age, engaging in meaningful work, teaching, writing, traveling. Someday, playing with grandkids. The thing about saying goodbye to my 30s is that it makes room for me to say “bring it on” to my 40s and all that they will hold.

*Mary Oliver, The Summer Day.
**Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way.

Maggie Hemphill is a trauma-informed life coach and story group facilitator at Storied Life Coaching, where she meets people in the depths of their stories and guides them to living a more integrated life of meaning and purpose. She is a facilitator of Narrative Focused Trauma Care at the Allender Center and a graduate student at the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology, working toward a Master’s degree in counseling psychology. Maggie lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three kids, and is in constant awe of God’s glory and goodness.