Time and Distance

40                                                                      50

The distance between 40 and 50 is more than a decade more than the number 10, more than

                      1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

It’s more than 5+5 or 5×2. It’s more than 3650 days.

It’s the distance between having a healthy father and having no father at all. It’s the distance between sharing life with a loving partner and being single. It’s the unimportant stuff like more grey hair and deeper wrinkles, hair growing places it isn’t supposed to and skin that’s starting to look like crepe.

It’s giving a shit about this upcoming birthday, when 40 came and went like it was no big deal.

40 was a cake walk, so I didn’t think I’d experience this existential stuff as I look down the barrel of the “Big 5-0.” I’ve always told myself, “Age is just a number. What matters is how you feel inside.” Well, that’s the difference between 40 and 50 too – this time I do feel different. Maybe it’s because I’m half an orphan now or maybe it’s something else. It feels kinda like it’s a genetic thing – that a switch has flipped and my genes have decided that I’m supposed to start feeling my age now. My mortality is more tangible in a very unsettling and heavy way that I’ve never felt before.

As dictated by the law of attraction, every time I turn around there’s another reference to death, dying, and grief. The other day I turned on CBC Radio and learned about a smartphone application called “WeCroak.” The developer of the app was inspired by the Bhutanese belief that “contemplating death five times a day brings happiness.” I downloaded it before the show was half over. The first friend I told about it looked at me like I was crazy. “That’s morbid,” he said, a tinge of disgust and mild curiosity in his voice.

WeCroak pings me randomly, five times a day with the message, “Don’t forget, you’re doing to die.“ If you click on the reminder, a quote comes up related to death and dying.

Here’s the one I got just a few minutes ago:

But every moment of life is the last;
every poem is a death poem.
Why then should I write one at this time.
In my last hours, I have no poem.

                                                              Matsuo Basho

Some of the quotes, like the one above, strike me as rather fatalistic – they are more of a downer than inspiring. Yet others are effective in lighting a fire under me and give me the desire to get things done before it’s too late. It’s too early to say whether these five daily reminders will actually make me happier, but I’m willing to give it a try.

30                                                                        50

30 and 50? Well yeah, they’re even further apart.

                            20

years that led me to divorce, Costa Rica and the end of a scientific career so I could move to Mexico…almost 20 years following my dream to learn to surf.

It’s

                                            33

The age of my friend and colleague who was killed in an avalanche in April 1998. His death shook me hard out of a deep sleep of complacency because I mistakenly believed I had all the time in the world to do the things that I dreamed of doing. I realized that it was NOW or NEVER or life would pass me by, or worse get cut short before I had the chance to take those trips to see the world, be in a loving supportive relationship…with myself (and maybe one day with a man).

I’m not sure why, but I used to regard the “Bucket List” phenomenon with some disdain. Contemplating turning 50 has given rise to some serious contemplation about what I have and haven’t accomplished yet in this life. I mean, I still haven’t been to France, Italy or Spain! Seriously? I shake my head and consider why that is. Life, I suppose…life getting in the way of living. I never seem to have the money or freedom to make those big trips. That’s going to change. It must change.

Perhaps that’s what these big decadal birthdays are for – to induce the kind of consideration about where we are at in life in comparison with where we want to be. I wonder what I’ll write about in the coming 10 years. Will I finally get my book done? Will it be published? Will I ride a bigger wave? Rent a little house in the country in France where I’ll write poetry and edit my book? Maybe I’ll finally learn the secret to happiness…five contemplations of death at a time.

Fate

This morning at 12:06am Eastern Time, while many of us slept, a dear friend living many thousands of miles away gave birth to a healthy baby girl. Meanwhile, I am making preparations to attend a baby shower this morning and then another one tomorrow. All around me young women, many of them my friends, are having children, creating families, following the natural course of their lives and molding the next generation.

While this is the path taken by most women, it is not to be for this one.

The Family is still an important cultural icon in Mexico. I am often regarded curiously or with pity by my Mexican neighbors when they discover I have no children of my own. I jokingly tell them I have six dogs and that is enough. I imagine they think “the joke is on you Señora.”

I often wonder if I will regret this turn of fate. I use the word fate because the decision has been made for me really. Circumstances have determined my current status as a woman in her 40s without children.

There is a sense however that it was never meant to be. I’ve never had that natural maternal instinct so many women have. I’ve never been drawn to babies or had the need to hold them and coo at them like my friends do. Quite the opposite actually. Typically I’m repelled by newborns, uncomfortable around them, let alone in the act of holding one. It is not until they are well into the toddler stage that they begin to catch my interest. I suppose I need for the interaction to go both ways. Perhaps it’s the lessened chance of ending up covered in bodily fluids that influences me.

For most of my life I thought my repulsion towards babies to be very unnatural and wondered if there wasn’t something wrong with me. But the feeling was clearly mutual. Babies have always gone into meltdown when they come into contact with me. Gradually, with each passing year and the realization that it isn’t in the cards, a feeling of acceptance has descended upon me.

A friend said once “It is not your path to be a parent. You are destined for something different, to share your gifts with the world in another way.” A truly beautiful thing to say – beautiful and hopeful.

And so, as I continue on the path through my 40s and ponder the world around me, I realize that my role in life is to be a good friend, a caring partner and lover, daughter, sister, a compassionate employer and thoughtful neighbor. Because it is the relationships we nurture in this life that matter. These are the things that will be remembered when we are gone.

A few more wrinkles with each passing year, reflecting wisdom in turn gained. Time marches on.

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