My last week as a thirtysomething took place in Yellowstone National Park. I’d never been before, and spent each day staring out the car window in awe, squealing “this is so beautiful!” over–andoverandover–again. (My poor family. They were trapped in the car with no exit strategy.) But really, it was breathtaking: the mountains, the waterfalls, the open fields, the endless trees, the wildlife. Oh, the wildlife. This little guy was my favorite.
I think he turned his back on me because he knew I was turning forty. Men.
And then there were the geysers and hot springs, which showed an entirely different side of nature. Just look at that; it’s like three isolated terrains crashed into each other to make the most beautiful and interesting scene imaginable. I couldn’t get enough of it. Such beauty, such diversity, such peace–all at once. Taking in that view, I felt contentment wash over me with the warmth of the Wyoming sun. I was just so happy to be here, on this day and in this place and with those I love most. It didn’t matter if I was forty or fourteen; the point was, I got to come! By some stroke of luck I’d arrived at this place in particular and this life in general and I just couldn’t believe my good fortune. And somehow, just then, getting older started to make sense to me. Because I was finally able to put into words what I’ve been feeling for some time: my life is becoming less about Me and more about What’s Around Me. And it is awesome.
They say the sky’s bigger in Montana, and my faithfuls, it is. (No really–it is. Don’t ask me how this works.) See, I’ve spent my life thinking that the sky hung at the same height everywhere, but last week I learned that I’ve had the sky all wrong. Seen from a new perspective, I witnessed an expanse of horizon that made yesterday’s sky look like a postcard. This new sky of mine is mammoth and magnificent; a ceiling for the ages.
And so it is with getting older. For years now and while I wasn’t looking, that narrow sky of my youth–blue and pretty as it was–has quietly spread into a vastness of purples and pinks and golds. It has evolved from pretty to spectacular. I am old enough to have experienced things and young enough to experience many more, and so satisfaction and anticipation greet me at this age, hand-in-hand. I can feel my motivations shifting from what I can accomplish to what I can contribute, and I find myself worrying less about what others think and more about how others feel. And despite what you’ve heard, I can say with authority that that delicious sense of possibility–remember it from your teens?–still exists in adulthood. It just turns inside out. I don’t wonder so much about what possibilities lay in wait for me; I wonder about what possibilities lie within me. That mantra of the young adult–”What can I do?”–becomes, for a (real) adult, “What can I be?” And I’m realizing–a little late, probably–that nobody, not a single person on the planet, is responsible for what I can become except me. It’s comforting. It’s terrifying. It’s fascinating. It’s forty.
And I’m just so happy to be here.