The Biggest Birthday Yet
Good lord, it is two days to my 50th birthday. I am not ready to own such a majestic number, never mind have to blow out that many birthday candles. Also, it means I have to stop ‘turning’ 50 and just be 50.
I have literally devoted my entire 49th year to getting to this birthday, and there’s something about the anticipation that is devotional and romantic as opposed to the actual attainment which is often something of a let-down.
On my 49th birthday, I decided to spend the whole year ‘turning’ 50. I could feel the pivot, the angling away from youth, even motherhood, vanity certainly, consumerism, excesses, and the internal curving towards the second half of life, though in reality, I have absolutely no plans to live to 100, so it is more like the last third.
I do not wish my children gone, though they are leaving me in all kinds of ways. I do wish my periods gone. I am so damn ready for menopause to settle me down – I have plans for what I’ll spend my monthly tampon budget on and they involve roses – the blended kind.
Over the past few years, I’ve become sick with possessions. The books, the scatter cushions, the niknaks, the overstuffed wardrobe (when in reality, I always wear the same few items over and over again). I have dozens of fancy outfits for occasions that by now, I know will never come – red carpet affairs, fancy dinners, celebrity events (which, by the way, I only tolerate in my imagination and detest in reality).
Four holidays in a campervan with Zed over the past years have switched me on to the lightness of being that comes with owning next to nothing: two sundresses (one to wear, one to wash), a pair of sandals, a sunhat. The peace of dispossession. The clarity of thought and emotion clutter disrupts.
I got a professional declutterer in who, over a period of two full days, helped me go through every cupboard, every item I have bought, collected and hoarded. She asked me hard questions like, ‘does this object bring you joy?’ and ‘why are you holding on to the past?’ As a result, I got rid of at least 40 percent of everything. I was shattered with exhaustion by the end of it all, but felt like I’d just had a colonoscopy of my entire consumerist existence.
On my 49th birthday, I made a list of everyone who has made a difference in my life and decided to track them down and write a letter of gratitude to them. I opted not to send emails. Despite my love affair with keyboards and the time I’ve spent in front of computer screens, I still keep a journal. I love stationary and who, to this day, doesn’t love to receive a letter in the post? I bought expensive, beautiful, handmade paper and envelopes.
There’s an intimacy when a letter is penned by someone’s hand. I write more slowly by hand than I type, and I wanted slow. I also wanted no record of the letter. I wanted it to be a one-off; that once it left my hands, I would entrust it to the ether, the postal system, the forces that be. And how I was rewarded with this. Recipients were overwhelmed – some had no idea how they’d impacted on my life.
For the past few years, I’ve been toying with the idea of a Vision Quest to mark my 50th birthday. To this end, I’ve been having sessions with a spiritual mentor to help prepare me mentally because the thought of spending 4 days without food (only water) out in the bush, alone with just the spiders and the snakes and the sky and the trees, actually makes me want to vomit. But I’ve begun to appreciate how all the activities that inspire nausea in me, are precisely the ones I still have to tick off on my ‘TO-DO-BEFORE-I-DIE’ list, even though I have spent a lot of time with my back turned against this knowledge. Perhaps I’ll conquer this in the coming year.
I collated and produced a book of poetry, The Turning: Poems from my life on my 50th birthday which needed a publisher, so I… ahem… became a publisher. I will give away copies to all my friends and family and anyone else who cares enough to want 50 TMI insights into my life.
When Thursday dawns, I’ll be down at the beach doing a sunrise yoga class with one of my favourite yoga teachers (if the forecast is wrong and it doesn’t rain) and I will probably get into the ocean, which I will hate but has to be done.
I want for 24 hours to be, in Mary Oliver’s words, ‘a bride, married to amazement.’
I will remember my friend Emma, who left when she was 35 and never got to be 50. I will think of my late grandparents – the ones I knew and the ones I never knew. I will think of my late nanny Violet who fiercely protected me – from nightmares and foolishness. I will miss my family and friends who are far away. But my sister Carolyn arrived over the weekend and we have already started the festivities.
I am giddy with excitement and gratitude for this chance to grow another year older. What a gift.
Thank you all for being part of my journey so far.
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