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May 26, 2020

The 3 Things we Should Know by the Time we’re 40.

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”⁠ ~ Robert Frost⁠


This was penned during the pandemic, but its lessons are timeless.

Life on Earth has slowed to a halt.

Much of the world is on hold—held hostage by fear, or care, or love, or all of the above.

While some areas are gradually reopening, Guatemala (where I live) is on strict lockdown, grounded by the government for this weekend at least, in a desperate attempt to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

My 30s are speeding to an end; I’m turning 40 next week.

My 30s have been marked by the marvels of motherhood and vicissitudes of a long-term partnership. The marriage of body, mind, and heart. Witnessing my precious daughter grow and blossom into the charming, clever, obstinate child she is today. Like mother, like father, like daughter.

Practicing the yoga of daily life. The yoga of this moment.

Here are the top three life lessons my 30s have delivered. While we each must live our own lives and experience our own falls and get back up again, I hope that sharing my personal experience will be of benefit.

1. The sh*t that happens does not always happen for a reason.

“As soon as you look at the world through an ideology you are finished. No reality fits an ideology. Life is beyond that…That is why people are always searching for a meaning to life…Meaning is only found when you go beyond meaning. Life only makes sense when you perceive it as mystery and it makes no sense to the conceptualizing mind.” ~ Anthony de Mello⁠

Last November, I was nearing the end of the first trimester of my second pregnancy. I was in Texas for a family visit. When I noticed light bleeding, I made an appointment at Planned Parenthood. The receptionist casually asked me if there was still a man outside the clinic telling people not to go in. It was a gray, rainy day. Cold for Austin, meaning maybe 40 degrees. The protester had already abandoned his post.

As an uninsured person without a high income, I was informed that I’d be eligible for free service. Unfortunately, it turns out Planned Parenthood does not treat women who are already pregnant. Really. Only women trying to get pregnant or terminate an unwanted pregnancy can receive services there. Hence, they referred me to the ER.

I went home. I felt okay. The light bleeding continued. I went on with my day.

In the middle of the night, so much blood and tissue flowed out of me that I had to flush the toilet a dozen times. This was a miscarriage; there was no way it could not be. After an hour or two of mild discomfort came the sharp cramps.

Finally, I asked my husband to wake up my dad to take me to the emergency room at 3:30 a.m. The pain had me moaning and breathing deeply. It had me in survival mode. It felt like what I imagine labor pain must feel like. (I never went into labor in my first pregnancy and ultimately had a C-section.)

They took a blood sample to confirm what I already knew. The young doctor was compassionate; it had happened to her too, she confided.

I learned that about a third of pregnancies end in miscarriage. I learned that miscarriage is a random event that results from the misalignment of chromosomes when the egg is fertilized. It’s not necessarily caused by a woman’s body or lifestyle.

The physician reassured me that I could likely get pregnant again within a few months. But I haven’t. And I don’t want to.

Yes, there are biological, emotional, physical, psychological causes that lead to effects. But the cliché that “everything happens for a reason” belittles the magical, complex mystery of life. We can’t pack everything in a neat little box.

I will always mourn the loss of the tiny life that lived inside me for three months. I will never “get over it,” as my mother assumed I had within a few days. And that is just fine.

2. Follow your heart and gut.

“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back. From then on, you are inflamed with a special longing that will never again let you linger in the lowlands of complacency and partial fulfillment. The eternal makes you urgent. You are loath to let compromise or the threat of danger hold you back from striving toward the summit of fulfillment.” ~ John O’Donohue⁠

In August 2009, I boarded a plane to the unknown. The leap-of-faith Central American adventure that ensued has been driven by my heart and gut. I’ve learned to follow the urges and honor the deep well of intuition within. It’s always right. It’s only a matter of learning to get quiet and listen.

Since 2010, I’ve made three dramatic career changes, from school teaching to retreat center management to freelance writing, editing, and translation. Suffice to say: cute as my students were, dreamy as the retreat center was, I am happiest working with words.

I’ve moved thrice: from giant, pulsating Guatemala City to small, pulsating Panajachel to this precious wooded hillside upon which I perch and listen to the buzz of cicadas and the reassuring song of birds upon branches. I’ve led women on retreats, weekends in the mountains and on the beach, blessed transcendental weeks at the lakeshore.

Years ago, I envisioned myself where I sit now, at a desk overlooking the blue-gray mist of the lake and volcanoes, writing on this quiet morning. Thanks to following my heart and gut, my dream vision has come true. Reality does not bite.

3. Know and love thyself.

“Love is seeing God in the person next to us and meditation is seeing God within us.” ~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar⁠

Over the past decade, I’ve sought and found a greater level of mental and emotional stability in my life. I’ve cultivated self-knowledge: accepted my reclusiveness, embraced my eccentricities, danced to my own tune. All this has been made possible because I’ve gotten to know myself better.

This is the gift of adulthood. I now love my body-mind, rather than rebelling against it. I don’t set vows or label myself or make big proclamations like I used to. I live from moment to moment, day to day, knowing that change is happening all the time, even if it’s invisible. I honor the past for bringing me to this precious now.

Self-knowledge and self-love lead to the realization that we are all inextricably interconnected. Self-knowledge is understanding our uniqueness and our sameness with all other humans. Self-love, ultimately, becomes a vast love for all beings.


My 20s were tumultuous and depressed and manic. My 20s were longing for love and adventure and freedom and escape. In contrast, my 30s have been grounded in gratitude and greater awareness.

Thank you, 30s. You’ve been monumental, brilliant, curious, intriguing, fantastic, heartbreaking, and expansive. I am looking forward to discovering what heights and depths my 40s have in store.

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