waiting for life to (re-)begin

{something on turning 40, written for K magazine for Kris Aquino’s birthday issue (my last assignment for them, considering how vocal i am against her, hahaha).} 

Waiting for Life to (Re-)begin

While youth slips away and mid-life edges closer and closer, Gina Abuyuan turns to older, wiser souls on coming to terms with turning 40

At 15 years old, I already knew what I was most afraid of: aging.

One of my best friends in high school reminded me of this when I tagged her in one of those once-ubiquitous lists on Facebook. I wrote that list two years ago, at 36. My fear had not changed, and for most of my life, I had succeeded running away from it—even managed to keep the most telling proof of it (my looks) at bay. Some people say it’s laughter, not sweating the small stuff, drinking lots of water and not smoking, that keeps one looking young. My formula was partying with people 10 years younger than I was, lots and lots of moisturizer, and watching sitcoms and stand-up comics on YouTube to keep myself laughing. To some extent, it worked.

But you can’t fight Time. People close to me will say that I’ve got too much history inside me, and at 38, that History is seeping into my skin. My face sags ever so slightly with the weight of it; and no matter how perkily and carefree-ly I try to walk (a gait I try to copy from Hindy Weber-Tantoco, also in her mid-30s but blessed with girlishness of speech, bird-thin bones, and a body toned by years of yoga), my stride gives away the sense of purpose of someone who has no time to wait, because the luxury of being untroubled can only belong to the young. 

This is how I feel sometimes—that I should be hurrying, rushing to get something monumental done, before I reach the big 4-0. It doesn’t matter that, when I look back, I’ve actually racked up more points in the game of life than most: 3 kids, founded four magazines, had tea with a group of barefooted football players in a Nubian village, love lives colored with every hue you can imagine (and no, I don’t mean that to refer to “nationality”…). I’m reaching mid-life, gadammit! And to get there, and bid goodbye to my 30s without a bang, to me, is completely unacceptable.

And completely understandable, my friends—most of whom are older than I am, by the way—tell me. What they don’t agree with is my sense of dread.

“I love being in my 40s!” exclaims Ina Teves, an organizational development consultant. “I looked forward to it. I felt being 40 gave me permission not to take myself and others too seriously, to look at life with a sense of humor, to savor the little joys more.  Forty gives you a choice of going deeper into what you already are into or of taking off on a new life adventure armed with a firm knowledge of who you are, what you can do, what you could still be, and that you’ve got limited time. I chose the adventure—teaching, writing, doing volunteer work, pursuing my masters, being present to my family—and have enjoyed every moment of it since.“

Instead of stressing over the “limited time,” women who see upside of approaching 40 and being in their 40s consider it a blessing. It’s the focus and doing away with non-essentials that makes the experience more intense, and therefore, more enjoyable. 

“Yes, life begins at 40,” says “Grace A.”, a 45-year old editor. “I became conscious of my being in my 40’s actually two years later when I hit 42.  Another year later, at 43, I became more concerned with finding a way to enjoy life—while at the same time being focused on what I really want to do. Not what I think I should do, but what I want to do. And conscious of my own mortality—that I don’t have enough energy, physical vitality, and years on this earth to accomplish them all. So in a way, everything you do becomes measured. It’s not like you have a lot of time to waste. Everything you do becomes an investment into the kind of life that you’d really like to have.”

One shouldn’t fear it, especially if you’ve lived a full life—especially a life that’s not always been by the book. 

“Well, if I knew during my teens, my 20s, and 30s what I know now at 40, I surely wouldn’t have enjoyed my youth as immensely as I did!” says Boracay-based Freida Dario, freelance writer, public relations and marketing consultant, and lifestyle journalist. Turning 41 this month, she also agrees that Life Begins at 40. 

“When one reaches their midlife, you can’t help but relish the memories of the good old days and at the same time, cherish every moment and value the quality of your life more deeply and passionately. Everything matters now, especially the people in your life. I now know who my true friends are and I also value my family more. My choices in life may not always be right but I make them with conviction and much thought, backed-up by experience and perspective. Although I have more patience for certain things that irritate me, I also will not waste time or energy on something that I really don’t care for. I feel I’ve become more spiritual, but not religious, and I have a greater respect for other people, animals and the environment. Yep, it gets pretty serious at 40, but that’s not to say that it’s not fun. It’s more like partying responsibly, approaching with caution and thinking before speaking. You know what I mean? I’ve also become more aware that if I were to leave a legacy, I better start working on it now.”

It’s that “legacy” part which I find daunting; something that I shouldn’t worry about, if I were to follow the advice of one of my mentors. “Your work can already be found in libraries, Gina,” she said to me years ago. “It’s all already there. In a way, you’re immortal.”

And so while I gingerly tread the fringes of being 40, I find a sense of relief in it as well. I find I can laugh at myself more and better; and at the same time have (relatively) enough smarts and wisdom to give younger people sound advice. I’ve also become less concerned about what other people will say or think about me, and listen more to my inner voice.

Ina Teves says it’s lent her a “coat of gravitas” so “clients take you more seriously”. Grace A. says “if you played your cards right, you have a whole new base on which you can rebuild your second life, whether it’s a network of friends, a solid professional reputation, savings. You also tend to see life in more layers than you did when you were young. The questions become more complex. Things don’t appear in black and white—which gives you a whole new arena to learn. Maybe for me that’s the great part—you’re still learning a lot of things that can help you and other people reach your dreams.  But with the added wisdom to do with that knowledge, which would not have been possible to you a decade earlier.”

Poet Marge Piercy once said, “My idea of Hell is to be young again.” While that may be extreme, I surely don’t want to go back to the uncertainty and image-obsessed years of my teens and 20s, the arrogance of my early 30s.

Turning 40 may mean I have to give up certain things—most of them in area of health and physical strength—but I think that’s a small price to pay for the feeling of giddy, yet full-on preparedness that this time brings. 

Freida tells me, “welcome it with open arms and eyes shut tight like you would on a roller coaster ride!”

Now, that’s advice I can totally relate to.


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