My mom turned 40 at Kramer’s Supper Club in Evansville, Minnesota, a no-stoplight town in the West Central farmlands. It was a surprise party. I was 17-years-old at the time and the only one of my 4 siblings to snag an invite because I had a car and agreed to sneak in the cake ahead of time. The room was decorated in prerequisite black and white graveyard-inspired decor because turning 40 means you’re about to die, and that’s obviously something you should joke about. My friend Missy came along, and we sat by ourselves when things got started, plotting to steal a taste of someone’s unattended beer. We got our chance when all the adults cleared out after dinner. No one noticed us hanging back, taking swigs of Miller High Life from half-empty bottles. That night defined for me what a 40th birthday was supposed to look like. I assumed it would take a lot longer to get there myself.
I recently polled my Facebook friends to see how they spent their 40th birthdays, and here were some of their experiences:
- Had a hysterectomy
- Took a two week trip to the UK
- Had too much sushi and wine
- Cut off very long hair for Locks of Love
- Enjoyed a farm to table dinner
- Took a long weekend on the Olympic Peninsula
- Forgot because brain dumped out pre-divorce memories
- Had tea and played with kittens
- Went to Disney World and then went on a rafting trip to see Grizzly bears
- Turned 40 in a Chicago hotel room
- Started a random tradition of spending every birthday somewhere I’ve never been before, doing something I have never done before
- Husband planned a surprise party
- Went off to an island alone and considered how I wanted to live the next 40 years
- My wife left me
- Saw Queen Latifah
- Cooked dinner for a few closer friends
- Parents took me to Italy
Now it’s my turn to summit that infamous “hill” and start the gradual decent into old age. I’ll be 40 at the end of March, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I want to celebrate it. I don’t have any scheming daughters to sneak sips of my wine (Miller High Life was something I never tried again), and my life hasn’t followed a traditional path with a husband, kids, and whatever else we attach to the American Dream, so I don’t really feel 40. Maybe no one ever really feels 40. Is it even really that significant anymore?
It must mean something—the number 40. It’s the number of weeks human beings gestate before birth. And then we grow up listening to American Top 40 before settling into 40 hour work weeks after college. In the Bible, people were always spending 40 days wandering around or getting tempted or rained on. 40 must mean something.
Today marks 40 days to my 40th birthday. And while I don’t know how I’d like to celebrate the actual day yet, I’d like to take that time to meditate on what I’ve accomplished so far and to think about what I’d like the next half (or so) of my life to mean. Over the next 40 days, I’m going to seek out new experiences, make new connections, strengthen existing connections, and hopefully finish a few projects that I started in my 30’s. This was inspired by my friend, Renata, who had one long, continuous celebration. And why not? If we’ve made it this far, shouldn’t we take some time to celebrate ourselves?
I’ve come up with about 20 things to do so far, so I’m in need of some ideas! Big or small. Feel free to comment with suggestions or simply share what turning 40 means to you.