On the morning of my 40th birthday, I look in the mirror. Later, (because quarantine) I would put on the gown I rented and add a layer of makeup, and dance around my kitchen.
But first. I take a moment to be alone.
I look in the mirror and do not look for the wrinkles and dark circles and feet of crows. (Truthfully, I love crows and think it should be more of a badge of wisdom, growth and learning to have any marker of a crow, but I digress.) They are there and will be there each passing year, but I have no interest in tracing these. Not today.
I look in the mirror, a little deeper, past the few faint freckles left over from childhood, from last summer. I look past tinted blush and tinted lips I like to enjoy putting on everyday. Because thankfully now, after a few years here and there of chasing nonsense, this small ritual of beauty is for me alone and not meant to lure or draw or convince anyone that I am worthy of their attention and love. It is to remind myself that I am also sex and sultry and a shimmering goddess of desire and crimson longing every now and then. Not just the tired mother of four in sweat pants and unwashed hair. I am a sexy goddess in sweatpants and unwashed hair. My pink lip balm does this. It’s magic.
I look in the mirror and I hope to see wisdom. I hope to see lessons learned and faith exercised. I hope my eyes reflect back the kind of kindness that has been given to me over the years.
I hope my eyes shine with the time a nurse stood vigil over my sweating, magnesium filled body when I was scared and my husband was sleeping, who told me my babies were all breathing and she could see 3 healthy heartbeats still and told me it was perfectly fine to cry and cry and cry. I hope my eyes shine back that time a stranger came up to me in a grocery store when I was with a wailing 6 year old Spencer. My best guess is that he didn’t like the center aisles? Each time we stayed on the periphery of the store, he was calm, but the minute we went down an aisle, he cried. The stranger approached me and told me I was doing a good job, smiled at him and walked away. I hope I reflect back the sincerity and love of that moment.
I hope my eyes shine with the grace my kids have given me when my patience was short and I snapped or threw hands up in agitation and minutes after my apology I was wrapped in their unconditional forgiveness and love, only to do it again the very next bedtime, and apologize again and be given, again, hugs and reassurances that I had their tiny, 4 year old forgiveness.
I hope my face reflects what it really means to love and forgive. Not the greeting card kind of love and forgiveness, with flowery, paper words. But the kind of love and forgiveness that takes the breath from your lungs and forces you to get on your knees, bent over in pain and hurt but you choose love and forgiveness anyway. I hope people know how real that kind of love can be.
When I look in the mirror I am tempted to dwell on that bottom row of crooked teeth, and the day when someone once told me that crooked teeth were akin to not caring about yourself. Instead I’ll lightly blow on the mirror, making my breath appear like magic. I’ll watch my breath and hope to see a dedicated practice of speaking words of love and relentless kindness. I touch my lips and say a prayer that they will utter only words that lift others and speak my truth. Even if it’s not someone else’s truth, even if it hurts, like Lizzo.
I want the tinted, pink lips to be, my own personal reminder that I am a wanted woman, even after a day of dishes and monotonous chores and so much domesticity. I want my pink, tinted lips to be unafraid to open and be loud and soft and honest and also keep a few secrets. They can’t know everything. I can have my own Mona Lisa smile that no one can figure out.
I practice that smile. Let it be uninterpreted. Let it be mysterious. I can keep a few secrets.
I look in the mirror and I see a woman who knows who she is and where she is going. Wait.
No. That is cliche. That was rote speaking. Actually, I have no idea where I am going, and that’s why I feel so secure and safe. I have finally surrendered the course of my life to something much bigger than my own plans. I stopped trying to meticulously chart a trail. When I did that, I ended up tangled in terrible brambles and briars that silenced and hurt me.
Now, I have no idea what the future holds. It is blank and beautiful. An open canvas. I don’t even know if I have paint brushes, because what if the canvas doesn’t even need to be painted? What if I can use the shadow of a cardinal on my back deck or the colorful rocks that collect every winter on the beach by my house? What if I can color my future with the sounds of crickets on an August night or the color of my grass in April the day after it rains, or the salty smell of lobster pots from the docks in town? What if my future can be colored with phrases from a journal or lyrics from a song I have known since I was a little girl, that I heard riding in my dad’s truck, running errands on a Saturday?
I look and see a blank, limitless future and smile. A subtle, knowing, secret keeping smile.
Forty looks pretty good on me.