Meredith Carroll: 49 and feeling redefined
I am one year minus one day away from being just three years younger than Dorothy Zbornak on the first season of “The Golden Girls.” Today is the second day of the last year of my 40s, I am officially “Who doesn’t love a good Bea Arthur reference” years old, and life is sweet.
Two decades ago I panicked when turning 29 so I never imagined that eventually I would be more laid-back in the runup to 50. When you are already dreading 30, 50 seems impossibly far off, like someone on the cusp of retiring to Miami Beach with a group of friends to play mahjong. When you are 49, you kind of wish that’s what 50 meant.
If my 30s ended up being the daydream a 20-something-year-old me never thought possible, then my 40s, while not over yet, have been the imaginary quiver of poisonous snakes I always feared hiding under my bed actually coming to life. While they are fatal most of the time, science has found there is still a 4% chance of surviving a cobra bite. I developed a real appreciation for science in my 40s.
It is possible my passion for science was sparked in 1989 when I did not fail the New York state chemistry Regents exam on account of it being canceled minutes before it started because the New York Post printed the answer key on that day’s front page. Come to think of it, that may not have been when I came to love science so much as newspapers.
Either way, I developed an unmistakable admiration for science after I was diagnosed with breast cancer the year I turned 40. Science, medicine and the professionals who studied and practiced it were ultimately the brightest light and best defense against all the dark and bad places where my mind — and Google — inevitably led me during an exceedingly frightening period. A few years later when I suffered a spiral fracture of two bones in my leg in a ski accident, it was once again the science, surgeon and physical therapists in whom I placed my blind faith when every other trick, analgesic, shortcut, wish, prayer and knock on wood that had perhaps helped me get by at some other point in time failed.
By the time COVID-19 came along, my trust in data, methodology and scientific evidence reaffirmed, I had an opportunity to practice the patience that forever eluded me before my 40s. Thanks to the doctors and physicians’ assistants who easily spent more than my allotted appointment times soothing my overwrought 40-something-year-old mind with meditations of knowledge, thanks to literally sitting around waiting for broken bones to heal, thanks to a global pandemic and young children at home with nothing but time, my efforts to be a model of patience have been redoubled, and then whether I liked it or not, doubled again.
It is that very same patience that I dig out for reference and some exercise each time a driver thwarts me from alternating into the zipper merge on West Main Street in Aspen. In my 30s I may have honked angrily, but in my 40s I tell myself they could (all) be rushing to give birth at Aspen Valley Hospital and allowing me to merge at the appropriate place and time will affect someone’s survival chances. Or maybe if they let me merge exactly where and when I’m supposed to they will be tragically late for work and risk hunger or homelessness. I have survived far worse than churlish Aspen (and Texas) drivers; I can wait.
Even when I cannot wait, I figure out another way, because the other thing this decade has taught me is flexibility: in how I parent (if I want to do it effectively), in how I move (if I want to keep doing it, and without pain, for a long time), and when I choose to pick up poop (note to self: flexibility is exactly what you will miss when you throw out your back postholing in deep snow to pick up poop from a dog that is not yours because you are nice, which is not a word you or anyone else would have used to describe you back in your 30s).
It never occurred to me when flirting nervously with 40 a decade ago that one day I would be staring down 50 with more cheer than caution. Then again, it took me all this time to learn that when all you have is time, there is not much else that you really need.
More at MeredithCarroll.com and on Twitter @MCCarroll.