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A Perspective on Turning 40

Stephanie Koehler

I turned 40 last week.  That’s 14,600 days old – in case you are counting.   According to the experts humans walk an average of 10,000 steps each day, so that means I’ve traveled about 146 million paces in my lifetime — many of them on bumpy roads and many in high heels.  No wonder my feet hurt and no wonder I need so many shoes….

It’s been an interesting experience – the realization that my life is half over.  Not necessarily bad – not necessarily good.  It just seems to matter more these days.  Maybe it’s the mark I am – or am not — making that matters.  In any event, it feels like a chance to take inventory.  Have I treasured each day or wasted them frivolously?  Have I lived up to expectations or failed to reach potential?  Have I learned from my mistakes or been crippled by failures?  I suspect I have done all of the above.

I have never really put much emphasis on birthdays.  At least not in the way many people do – fretting about gray hair and wrinkles or longing for a chance to do it all again.   I notice these things – but I don’t find them troubling.  In fact, I am strangely comforted as I look at my fingers and recognize my mother’s aging hands and her mother’s before that.  No longer smooth but rather thin, fair skin with small lines and pronounced veins. It makes me smile.  It makes me feel like I have a story – and like them, I’ve earned every wrinkle.

My 10th birthday remains a vivid memory for me.  I had a Dorothy Hamill haircut, bellbottom jeans and treasured three gifts in particular.  A Shawn Cassidy record, a beanbag chair and Tattoo You by the Rolling Stones – also on vinyl.  It was quite an image.

I tried to recall my 20th birthday – but couldn’t quite place it amongst the college parties and friends.  I’m sure I had fun.

Turning 30 left a mark – but not for reasons you might expect.  I was on my way home from Colorado – having just attended my brother’s funeral.  I was glad to see that day go by.  Turning 33 was the one that hit me really hard.  I was officially older than he was on the day he died.  I felt guilty.

So, when 40 began rolling around and people asked how I wanted to spend this momentous occasion – I wasn’t quite sure.  I just wanted to somehow bring all the fragments of my crazy and adventurous life into view.  I wanted to see if there was any order in what appeared to be chaos.

I couldn’t really explain why until just a few days before the big day – when a complete stranger asked me a simple question.

“When you look at the world – from the perspective of what age do you see it?”

We were with a group of people and each one quickly responded with an age that had long since past.  They reminisced about youthful vigor and a world filled with promise.  For me the answer was not so simple – but rather it opened a floodgate of introspection.  For me – it was the exact opposite.  I see the world as if I were 80.

That’s not to say I think I have no life in front of me – I believe I do. But I have had more than my share of experiences and more than my share of turmoil.  I have not always taken the most obvious path – and for that reason, I have worn out more than my share of shoes and more than my share of people.

So, as the day arrived, I stood there surrounded by an amazing group of formidable people — from my best friend in high school and roommate from college to my most treasured mentor and most respected colleagues.  There were people I see daily and others I see less frequently.  Each one has their own story to tell – and believe me – they did.  But the real story in that room was the simple reality that they are the people who make me who I am.

They are the physical, spiritual and emotional foundation on which I stand.  They are the ones who have traveled each of those 146 million steps with me.  They are the ones who cleaned my wounds so there would be no scar.  They are the ones who made me laugh — leaving wrinkles on my face.  They are the ones who gave me the oxygen to grow and the tools with which to build.  Each one was evidence of a treasured and fortunate life.

For me, these people were evidence that my “road less traveled” really HAS made all the difference.

By Stephanie Koehler
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