Turning Forty: Beyond Face Cream
by Joanna E. S. Campbell
I’d like to place my twenties in a shoebox, tie it up with string and slip the decade under my bed. Or bury it in the back yard. Hell, just burn the thing.
My thirties are near their end, and reflecting on these years is more appealing. My twenties feel like a newborn puppy – mostly sweet, blissfully ignorant, and guaranteed to make a huge mess.
I am six months away from the age many people dread, though I wonder if their emotional display is more a cultural requirement based on what is marketed at party supply stores or designed on birthday cards. My hair decided to start graying when I was eighteen, and years of hiking Montana mountains led to morning arthritis by my mid-twenties. My lens for getting old isn’t reflected on a greeting card or in cosmetics commercials. I earned that bone spur on my big toe, and I’d much rather wrinkle from playing in the woods or swimming in the ocean.
Articles pop up about forty as the new thirty or fifty as the new forty. My oldest brother is in his mid-forties and he just ran the Grand Canyon, rim to rim and back again. I could never do that, but I love that he did.
Instead of worry over age spots, creaky joints, or crow’s feet – instead of accumulating achievements or buying a flashy car or wanting a star kid, here is my deep desire. I simply want to know what I am becoming. What am I turning away from and toward? Okay, maybe a few achievements would be nice, and I wouldn’t mind a Saab convertible. Red. Instead, my husband and I bought a hot red Prius with a solar panel from a guy named Ray who is seventy-three and a bicycle-racing champion. I can only hope I’m a little like Ray in my golden years.
There are those who remember everything. Their minds are steel traps. I envy their ability to recall historical dates, important speeches, and the names of nearly every person encountered. I was not born this way. I can hold onto a poem for a week, maybe. I remember images, sensations, scents, and flashes. I am far better at remembering mistakes, and while I have learned a great deal from these, fresh bad decisions still manage to sprout when I’m not careful. Then there are the familiar, less attractive patterns that have somehow morphed into personality traits. This is an awareness I carry toward forty.
Yesterday, I watched Buddhist monks create a mandala on the 6th floor of the Basin Park Hotel. I missed their opening and closing ceremonies, but I spent an hour observing them hunched over a square table toward the end of the last day. They patiently spread colored sand into the shapes of highly detailed deities and ancient spiritual symbols. Sand mandalas are about impermanence. What must it feel like to create something so exquisite and then brush it away? Visitors, myself included, snapped photos, digitizing the powdered prayer for as long as our hard drives will allow. I don’t photograph my prayers, I thought. What are the lamas thinking as they guide the trickle of minute particles? I want to eat that. I immediately tried to brush this last thought away. But seriously, that would be an amazing cookie. Trying to remain clear-headed while watching the lamas is just as challenging as clearing my mind during Centering Prayer on Tuesday mornings.
I later learn that the mandala sand is collected at the end and then divided. Some is placed in an urn, some is given away to the public, and the rest is poured into a stream, a healing prayer that will spread through the veins of the planet. It now makes sense why the mandala is deconstructed. If I tried to hold onto every prayer I’ve offered, who knows what state I’d be in. I would surely have a permanent facial expression of confusion or worry or both.
There is another awareness as I approach forty. I have collected rocks ever since I can remember. I have little bowls of them from my twenties and thirties, happy moments, and these, I don’t mind lugging around. They are memories and prayers I need to touch from time to time. In the palm of my hand, they feel like gratitude. Maybe they once crossed paths with mandala sand that traveled the Earth’s winding waterways. Going forward, I’ve got my rocks and the still fresh dream for clarity, a dream no fancy face cream can satisfy, and this is a damn good thing.