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May 16, 2024

What 40 Years Have Taught me about Heartbreak, Love & Christmas Lights.

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Today I have turned 44, and I sit here with my coffee after dropping off my kids at school and in between my work email and ask myself what that actually means to me.

Forty-four years of life. That’s a lot. That is much more than it feels like. Milestones gone and past.

I remember when I passed my A-levels. It was one of those few parties I actually really wanted to go to and enjoyed. The feeling of opportunity, the year-long friendships, that first love.

And then came the blip—the uncertainty of the first year at university, the broken heart, the feeling of swimming around with no direction. And then came more friendships, more loves, travel, and the feeling that the world out there is exciting and beautiful and that I am beautiful. And then I felt ashamed again, and fat, and unlovable, and a little lost. Work experiences, first jobs, some hated, some scary, some empowering. Financial independence—a dance between accomplishment and anxiety. And more love—some exhilarating, some ill-advised, some too short, many wonderful connections with friends, sitting together in hammocks with a bottle of beer and shorts, talking and laughing and feeling part of one big tribe. And sometimes feeling empty after an evening with people who felt like the opposite.

There was facing family—decisions that other people made that impacted you. The injustice of having to mop up and live with something you had no input in. And then slowly and with sincerity accepting it, loving people, and letting go of the blame, step by step as life unfolds. Still unfolding.

Deciding to have children. Did I really actually decide it? Madness. So many decisions we have to take that are forward paid—like when you decide at 18 what you want to do for a living, or making people purchase houses with mortgages they end up paying off for the rest of their lives. Deciding to settle down with a person and have children. A whirlwind of love and joy, of exhaustion and worry, growth and disbelief and more love. Always love. Tiring, dedicating, all-consuming love.

You see your friends go that you were meant to hold onto for the rest of your life—as people advise. Then you realise other people’s advice is like a personalized cocktail the barman shook up just for them. Some of it might not work for you.

Stay together, separate, live together apart. Are these privileges, options, or bad ideas?

Finding yourself and losing yourself then finding parts of yourself you never knew about, and all that so late in life. It is all for you to discover.

And all the while you ask yourself, is it really just your own attitude that defines whether you think of your life as being good or being dreadful?

I have the nagging feeling it is.

People can pass through the same things in life and one says it’s awful and the other says it’s wonderful. The question is, is it for you? The question is, are you grateful?

I am reminded of this quote by Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way(s) he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.” When I first read it I instantly felt ashamed to admit—I lose my rag and pull mindlessly on either end and through the whole lot to the floor thinking “the world is against me.”

Nowadays, I can still not lay claim to the fact that I would graciously fiddle around with them whilst whistling with joy at this opportunity for practicing patience. No. But I look at tangled Christmas lights and know there have been many before that I managed to untangle, ripped or thrown in the bin, and yet Christmas always happened and life moved forward. That’s middle-aged wisdom with a small “w.” And it makes me laugh. Some people may say you become less aspiring, but I think you become less radical, maybe a little less dramatic. Again, it is all about perspective and attitude.

Because the challenges we face and the love we experience, the joy and the sorrow, they are all like the spring skies—sunshine, clouds, more clouds, sunshine, and out of nowhere showers and a sudden rainbow. It’s all so unpredictable. You are just the sideshow.

I am 44 now and I am sitting looking at the spring skies. Grateful. But not grateful for the big achievements, the society milestones where people bring in cakes and balloons. I am grateful that finally at 44 and in this rare moment of self-reflection I sense the unfathomable beauty of life’s ever flowing current. I am starting to catch a glimpse of the bigger picture and I am elated.

How precious it really is. I am excited.


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