36. That’s what it’s taken. 36 is the age where I’ve officially begun to speak about aging. I can’t say that this is fully true, but it feels true. Like, I’m sure you could comb the Greek Tragedy archives and find a furrowed brow on the subject, but this is the year where I feel my age. And it has nothing to do with my body or my health. It’s just the number. Now, more than ever, I feel my age. Because thirty-six is the first time I’ve ever felt like things were supposed to be aiming down.
Eggs. Let’s just put it out there. Thirty-six, and that’s top of mind. “Not as fresh,” “Not as healthy,” “Downhill after thirty-five.” That’s right. If “over the hill” is considered age 60, downhill is age 36. Sad, so sad, but true.
Do you know that my eyes are going? So much so that today, when I went to pluck a stray eyebrow hair, I actually bit a wrinkle with the tweezers? Yes, you read that right. Not only can’t I see straight, but now my facial hair is confused with wrinkles.
Grace. It’s the next word people throw at you. Right after quoting Gloria Steinem. And throwing in the word, “Natural.” Some joke about Botox and boobs so saggy you can trip on one.
I don’t know about any of that. But what I do know is that if I were younger…
I’ll stop me right there.
I know that years from now, I’ll read this and laugh. Not aloud, but I will. I already know this! I’ll laugh and say, “Sister, you don’t know the half of it.” At least, that’s if I’m lucky. Because we all don’t get to live into our nineties, like my grandparents have. Life gives up on us sometimes. Our bodies give up—not us, but our bodies. And 36 feels like a softening, the end of a struggle, an acceptance of the reality we’ve been told all along. That we will die. That we will wrinkle (which is actually preferred to the smooth plastic, “she’s overdone” look. Then, again, someone chokes out a “gracefully,” stuffed with as much judgment as you can shove into a word.
Thirty-six feels like your life decisions matter more. Because, it’s true, there’s less new to live and more to live for. But, really, it only feels that way. When you do the math, it’s not exactly true. 36 x 2 = 72. So, you have more time to live—hopefully—and you can live it fuller because—again, hopefully— you’re not in diapers during this half. Life feels heavier when you realize you don’t have it forever. And for me, thirty-six is the year where I’m actually thinking about that. Sure, it’s always looming, but this birthday is the first, the very first, that feels…
I don’t know how to finish the sentence because “old” isn’t the right word. “Soft” is all that comes to mind, but I’m not sure if it translates. Skin feels softer. My attitude feels softer. I care so much less about so many things. I’ve become softer. But I’ve also become more questioning… I think. It’s hard to know.
What I do know: when I’m older, I will look back at this and say something with the derogatory, “Honey, please.” Because 36 is still a baby. 36 isn’t even menopause. It isn’t outliving friends, or family. It isn’t dying hair or lifts or jobs or treatments even. It’s the end, though, of not caring about upkeep.
It’s the first year where life feels heavier, even if the rest of me feels softer. I can’t say it’s the most uplifting of years, but I’m also not afraid of aging. I actually—I know this is strange—look forward to who I’ll be when I’m older and even more outrageous. I look forward to the wisdom I’ll have, the things I’ll have learned. I already envy the things I’ll know then that I can’t even see now. How people can promise you anything, but in the end, you were right to trust your instincts, they were just words. Promises and words without the follow through. When we’re young we want so much to believe, to tell people who they are and what they really want. But in the end, what it comes down to, any of it, is show.
On New Year’s Eve, I sometimes draft a letter to myself. Seal it in an envelope and read it the following year. This year my birthday falls on the Jewish New Year. So it feels like an envelope licking day, a day where I write to my future self with warnings… of not falling for perfect and promises, not getting swept up in imaginary if’s. Because there’s what you already know, and there’s what’s in front of, what already is. Make your decisions based on that. Not illusions. Because everything that’s happened up until this point was meant to happen. And the things that never worked out weren’t supposed to.
I was wrong when I once said, “‘Meant to be’ is lazy. It’s an excuse.” I now believe that everything that is, is okay. It’s there to teach you things, and no matter what, you’re going to be okay. It’s already okay. Because at the end of the day, and year, you still have you. And there’s nothing—okay, except maybe your children—as precious as that. And that’ll be true no matter what year you’re celebrating.