I’m 43. There, I said it. 43. The funny thing is, I don’t feel 43. I can distinctly remember when my mom turned 40, and my sister Kim and I bought her a coffee mug that read, “Forever 39.” (Incidentally, I’m contemplating opening that store next to Forever 21 and selling Grey Goose, La Mer eye cream, Spanx, and adhesive bras that actually work.) People who know me well know that I’m not one for birthdays. Sure, I love the exploding Facebook notifications as much as anyone—hearing from all of the beautiful souls I’ve encountered in this crazy life. You get to feel like a celebrity for one day. Who wouldn’t love that? But more than anything, I see it as a time of reflection—an opportunity to appreciate living another year on this earth and asking myself the questions, what the hell am I doing and am I being true to myself?
Brian Loane, one of my brilliant graduates, once wrote about there being magic in the word “yet.” It’s true. “Yet” implies something more—a new step in learning or a tangential path toward another “truth” we’ve never even contemplated. I love it. And today, at 43, I contemplate “yet.”
I have yet to travel on my own. This is very true and probably puts me straight at the top of the “bad feminists list.” I rely on my husband, son, and extended family for a lot. Even as my mother reads this, she’s cringing at the thought of my summer plans. Yes, while I’m studying abroad, I’ll be traveling with a group; however, I get two whole days to do what I want. Two days to pedal my way into the English countryside testing out my lackluster British accent and boring pub patrons with my knowledge of local poetry. Two days to get lost and force friendships while asking for directions. Two whole days to fuck it all up. And I’m excited.
I have a list of ten classics that I have yet to read in their entirety. Some I’ve held off on because the density alone is daunting; others I have tucked away because I’ve been told that I’ll appreciate them more when I’m older. It’s a good list though—one that’s complex and challenging. And I like the idea of having lifelong learning goals, even if it’s just the act of reading.
I’ve not yet had a gray hair. Listen, I’m not trying to brag. I have wrinkles, cellulite, weird brown sun spots, neck lines, cavities, and stretch marks in places I didn’t even realize one could acquire stretch marks. But gray hair? Nope. Why should this go on my “yet” list? Well, while I don’t want one anytime soon, I think it will signify a life well spent.
I have yet to get my work into a major publication. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve received some lovely rejection letters that I’m sure could wallpaper my house. I’ve also received some letters where I felt like someone may as well have knocked on my door, punched me in the face, loosened a couple teeth, spit on me, and walked away. But I’m waiting for the big one. Patiently. It just hasn’t happened yet.
I’m still trying to perfect the art of “farewell” and “goodbye.” One of my amazing 2010 students, Gabby Rolette, wrote about this same issue in her final English essay. There is a time for goodbye, when a relationship has ended or the person just isn’t coming back, for real. And there is a time for farewell. Situations may change, circumstances, but not feelings. This is an obvious hardship for me. I can barely tolerate farewells, so how do I learn to roll with goodbyes? Throwing my hands up and screaming “Jesus, take the wheel” is just not a part of who I am. I’ve learned some hard lessons from this though—ones that I alone have to contend with and have caused great heartache and regret. But I’m growing, understanding, putting it all into perspective. Hopefully I’ll get there one day.
It’s a short list of “yets” that I have so far, and who knows, it might grow. After all, I have yet to throw one hell of a retirement party with the Darnells, yet to have grandbabies, yet to live at the beach, yet to open my own hybrid bookstore/winery. Yets are important; years are important. There are some days at work when it’s just easier not to look in the same Plexiglas mirror that my 24-year-old self peered into all those years ago… days when the bright, collagen faces staring back at me each day seem younger and younger… days when I feel like one of them—ready to scream at the pep rally or dance at the prom. And then there are the rare days where I want to marinate in self-pity, because after all, I’m the only person in the entire universe having to deal with this existential crisis, right? I’ve learned though, it’s all good. Life is good and people are generally lovely. There’s no need to overthink what is here to enjoy. Especially, not yet.