Strength in Numbers

This past January, I celebrated my 40th birthday. And thus, I’ve spent much of the year noticing what it feels like to utter those potentially charged words in a matter-of-fact way: I’m forty.

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Guess what? It feels good. Although I must confess, it also feels nice when people say, “No way! You don’t look 40.”

Because even though part of me knows better — that we can get more beautiful with age, that there is grace and depth in the accumulating decades, and that 40 (or 50 or 60) doesn’t have to signify anything in particular — there’s another part of me that has always been just a little bit worried about what getting older would mean, about how it would look and feel, about what it might do to me.

Now, though, I’m suddenly more interested in what I’m doing with it. One of the main things I’m doing is counting every year on my side. Possessing more experience and wisdom means I’m not sweating details like I did in my worrywart 20s, or throwing good energy after bad, like I did in my people-pleaser 30s. I’m much more likely to ask myself questions like: What do I want this day/ week/year to be about? What do I want to make happen? Where am I being called to go next?

I’m also enjoying the arc of change I’m experiencing in the way I approach all sorts of things, including food (it used to be all about denial; now it’s about conscious pleasure and nourishment), exercise (it used to be about changing my body; now it’s about being fully present in it) and self-criticism (it was once a near-constant onslaught; now it’s an occasional annoyance). What a relief.

Following my father’s car accident last year, I got thrown off all my normal routines of self-care. I had a hard time getting to yoga class, I grabbed food on the run, and I got less sleep than I knew was healthy. And in the face of all this, I discovered something wonderful: My body hung in there with me, and I hung in there with it.

Even though I wasn’t getting my usual doses of nutrition and activity, my body didn’t fall into major disrepair. I didn’t gain weight and I didn’t get sick. And when I cautiously began to re-engage my fitness routines, concerned that I’d have lost all the ground I’d won over the past several years of regular training, I was delighted to find that I’d hardly lost a season’s worth. My body basically said: “Welcome back, we knew you’d show up sooner or later.” The gratitude I felt was profound.

But I can’t say I was entirely surprised, because during this same time, I was also witnessing my father’s comeback — at age 77 — from trials and tribulations far more challenging than my own.

Those of you who were reading this magazine back in July 2006 may recall that my father was nearly killed in a car accident with a drunk driver. At that time, I wrote a letter about my realization that his previous good health and fitness had probably saved his life, and I expressed my admiration for his commitment to regaining his fitness during his long road to recovery.

Now, a little more than a year later, I’m happy to report that Dad has made incredible headway. He’s walking on his own with just a little help from a cane, working out with a trainer several times a week, and exercising daily on his own. He’s focused on getting good nutrition and learning to drink more water. His apartment is filled with workout gear — including a rowing machine, BOSU Trainer, balance pads, resistance bands, weights and, of course, his trusty sledgehammer.

But best of all, his mind is totally open to doing what it takes to heal the deeper damage the accident left behind – from posttraumatic stress that left him anxious and depressed, to long-buried insights about earlier periods of his life, many of which came surging up unexpectedly in the aftermath of his physical healing.

Instead of closing himself down for repairs, Dad is courageously opening himself up for growth and discovery. In my mind, that’s what staying strong is all about.

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