This is my three hundredth column for Corks Evening Echo, I have four children, five (10 really) kilos excess weight and I am nineteen years older than I’d like to be. Like everything else, I number my years in existence too, today I am 39 years old today, tomorrow I will be forty.
I don’t care how immune one claims to be, forty is a significant milestone. It’s the end of subconscious youth and it’s the start of conscious youth. Sure people brass neck it and say that they don’t look any different, feel any different but look in the mirror and reality will stare right back at you, fine lines, varicose veins, grey hairs, all there for the world to see, but it’s not the fine lines or even the deeper lines that evoke feelings about turning forty it’s the feeling which I wasn’t aware of and surprises me that all my life, have dangled forty as my time to mark achievement. At forty one’s place is pretty well established in this life, and tomorrow I want to look in the mirror and be happy with what I see, so the pressure is on, to be thin, wealthy and have a bestseller on the shelves before morning.
It’s funny how we gauge ourselves at the milestone birthdays, at twenty one, it’s all about education and work, are you driving yet? Are you going to travel? There’s the pressure to deliver on all the big ideas you bounced about in your teens. There a pressure to make a debut in life, take on world and conquer it.
At thirty, if the world hasn’t conquered you, you’re lucky. You may reign in your enthusiasm for the world and begin to make your empire a little more tangible. You build a home, a family, and get ready to settle into a steady rhythm which you imagine will dictate the pace of your life from that point forward.
Then somewhere between 30 and 40, a massive recession hits and all your ideals are cast to the liquidators. You find yourself waking up on the eve of your fortieth birthday, not living in domestic banality you had dreamed for yourself since you were 21, instead you find yourself living between two counties, two homes, two completely different ways of live and the stock take you had planned for forty isn’t as clear cut as it might have been. You don’t have your kids in the Gaelscoil, you don’t live in a period mansion. You don’t have a close knit community in which you’re embedded. Your car is hired. Your house is rented. Your career would look like a rollercoaster on a graph and home has been in seven different houses in ten years.
Turning forty compels us, me at least, to take stock. So I start, I first look at the scales and will it to read shy of 55kgs but it won’t and probably never will. Becoming a millionaire without making significant efforts or investment seems also unlikely. The bestseller whilst is the pipeline is not about to grace the shelves any day soon as I find it hard to find the time to read a book not to mind write one. Alas the act of taking stock is to count the haves and not the have nots. So I count four happy kids, one husband who always gets the big things right, two great parents who get younger the older I get, an extended family that I wouldn’t want to be without, friends now in all corners of the world, and most important ones of all the old ones. In short all the priorities have flourished.
Counting also, health of body and peace of mind, some might say you know you’ve truly underachieved in life when you’re counting peace of mind in your list of accomplishments, but something about turning forty instigates a weeding out of the negative and conscious focus on the positive. Say goodbye to all the tedious pressures and insecurities of the twenties and thirties and hello to the feisty forties, hello to the countries I’ve let to live in and hello to the friends I’ve yet to meet, bring it on. Life continues and begins.