On Thursday night I went out to hear live music. I have wanted to see Yo La Tengo live for years. I promised myself I would do it before I turned 40. I managed the task with just hours to spare.
After a great show, I was driving home with my friend. I suddenly looked at the clock as my chest started to tighten. It was 11:15. “Forty-five minutes” I said.
“Until what?” he asked.
I looked at him incredulously. “Until I turn 40.” This was so huge to me, so big. I could not believe that someone so close to me had not noticed.
The trip home was excruciating. I hadn’t hired a babysitter. My ex was at home with Max and I knew that I would face him as the clock struck midnight. Worse yet, when he left I would face the absence of him.
The last ten years were pressing in on me with each passing minute. I got home, kicked out Juan with a thanks and a wave, and sat down with 10 minutes left.
I turned 30 without much flourish, drama or even thought. I was a work-aholic then. I was on a business trip. I came home to a sweet, but rather uneventful weekend with my husband. Turning 30 meant being a grown up and I was ready to embrace responsibility and stability.
Over the next ten years, I was swept along, along a career path, a partnership, and eventually into motherhood. I struggled with post-partum depression. I grew as a mother, I watched my marriage fall apart, I came to peace with work, I learned to be alone, I developed a community, I lost my faith and gained it over and over again. I found my heart, I found my soul, I gave up faking it and embraced my messy but authentic self, stopped looking for the ending and just immersed myself in the adventure.
And at 11:50, I sat alone as I felt myself standing at some kind of doorway, gateway, a new beginning or maybe just a continuation of the same old road. It felt heavy and strange and bigger than normal.
I was glad Juan left. I needed to face this myself. Even more than that, I needed him not to be there. Yet, to be honest, I felt as lonely as I did the first night that Juan walked out of my house. I cried. Not because I was turning 40. I cried for grief, and joy, for all that had passed over the last 10 years. Then I blessed those memories and blew them like kisses out the window.
Eventually I slept. And then I woke up. And it was a new day.
My 40th birthday fell on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It was also the 18th day of the month. In Hebrew, the word for Chai or “Life” and the word for the number 18 are the same. When the new year falls on the 18th, she told me, it is especially lucky. For me to turn 40 on such a day…is triply lucky. A blessing of the most wonderful kind.
And so, it was perfectly appropriate that I would spend my 40th birthday, gathered around the table with dear friends, passing the challah and dipping apples into honey. Instead of blowing out birthday candles, I would light them.
Barukh atah Adonai E1oheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat
Blessed are you, Lord God, who brings Light into the World, into the Universe.
Never have those words meant more to me. As I lit the candles I understood. All the generations before seemed to touch me on my shoulder. Bring the light into the house. Bring the light into the world.
I cannot help but believe that I am standing at at the foot of a mountain range, both magical and magnificent. There is no other way to go but walk, step forward, trust my life, trust the path.
Let it carry me home. To the light.