Do You Dread Birthdays?
Yesterday was my birthday.
With each passing year, I become more cognizant that my time on Earth is limited. My children aren’t little kids anymore. My parents are getting older and my father’s health is deteriorating. I dye my hair every five weeks. Heck, my husband turned fifty on his last birthday. In the past year, two friends have been diagnosed with cancer and a high school classmate died suddenly of a heart attack.
Midlife feels like a race through a minefield, bombs dropping within inches of my path.
Sometimes, I’ll wake in the deep of night to a dark and quiet house with a prick of panic. What am I doing with my life? Is trying to be a writer crazy? Am I a good mother? Is my husband content? Am I happy? Do I make any difference in the world?
My parents both had noble careers. My father was a field surgeon in Vietnam and later an emergency room doctor, his work was to literally save people’s lives. My mother, a stay at home mom for years, returned to workforce with gusto as a math teacher. Now while most of her contemporaries have retired, she’s employed full-time as the Director of the Tutoring Center at the local community college. My parents’ work has had meaning and honor—a purpose.
I wrestle with my calling to be a writer and my responsibility to make a living. The two are in conflict as there is little money in the arts. And many times I feel like I started too late. The calendar tells me I’m a middle-aged woman and that I should pass the torch. My season for dreaming is over. Focus on my kids—their passions. Plus others are so far ahead. Publishing with a big house, though I am getting closer, most days seems impossible.
In the wee morning hours, there is a peculiar loneliness in a sleeping house. Time does a funny thing without the distractions of the day. It becomes more finite and unforgiving—more real.
An urgency will settle upon me.
Rattled, I’ll get up and go to the bathroom. Sometimes, I’ll catch the reflection of a young girl in the vanity mirror. She’s full of creativity, potential, and hope. Life hasn’t happened to her. For a second, we’ll lock eyes. Her face turns older and fuller as she disappears and I come into focus. But before the ether swallows her, my younger self smiles mischievously, her eyes bright and kind, and says, “Don’t quit. Put our light in the world.”
I am so grateful for each birthday—each year. The time I get while it is denied to others. There’s no rhyme or reason to where the bombs land or to whom they hit. At least I get to try. It’s my duty. And yours, too.
So, I duck and dodge.
How about you?
This post originally appeared on Heather Christie’s Sunday Dinner Blog