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Life begins at 40. It begins to go to hell…

I have a friend who is terrified because she is about to turn 40 this month. It reminds me of the day that I had my 40th birthday.

I’d stopped by my parents’ home. My mother, who’d been paralyzed by a stroke in 1992, was there with Jacky, the attendant who’d become like a family member to us.

When I mentioned it was my 40th birthday,  Jacky said something I will never forget. 

“Life begins at 40,” said Jacky,who was in her 70s. “It begins to go to hell. First your back goes out. Then you lose your teeth…”

We all laughed. Then, she started telling me how all of her friends were dying right and left.

“Jacky, that’s got to be pretty depressing,” I said.

“I figure, better them than me!”

We laughed again.

I loved that conversation for so many reasons. First, it was a time when my mother was still lucid enough to do girl talk and have fun. She is long lost to the fog of Alzheimer’s now, and I miss those times. Second, I loved Jacky’s attitude because it showed me that we can either march on with humor or give in to what could be a very depressing perspective aging: We can either writhe in the loss that is inevitable, or laugh at it and still have a good time. That’s what I want to do.

I would prefer to have my whole life ahead of me, but honestly, I wouldn’t go back to my 20s again — not for a million bucks. In your 20s, you don’t even know how good you have it. In your 30s, you start to realize it, but you still do stupid things. The 40s? Well, I am not crazy about the fact that I am in a category that sometimes leaves me written off as middle-aged, but with that age comes the wisdom that we needed all along. For the most part, life makes sense to me now. It feels good. I am happy.

My 40s have been the best of times for me. I wish they could last forever, but I know the 50s are coming. I’ll have to check with Jacky about what that means.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books. Her fifth book, Finding the UP in the Downturn, will be released this spring. She is one of the nation’s most sought-after keynote speakers on leadership and performance.

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