For the last couple of weeks I have intended to write a post about the milestone of my fortieth birthday. It is a particularly important event for me, since my father never lived to see this age, and my brother died shortly thereafter, both of colon cancer. There was a time when I didn't expect to see this age either, but it wasn't because I feared cancer. No I suffered from a completely different kind of sickness, a sickness of the mind called addiction. I didn't just expect to die young. I actually cried out to God and begged Him to take me. No I wasn't suicidal. I didn't have that much courage.
But drugs were never my problem. They were merely a symptom. My problems were much deeper. What I suffered from was insecurity and fear, an irrational self-centeredness. Everything about this world scared the hell out of me. My only way to deal with this fear was to play the part of the clown, and to be the life of the party. I became popular and made lots of friends, but I never felt like I measured up.
I made it through college, but school was always easy for me. It's participating and competing out in the real world that troubled me. I was too afraid to succeed, so I didn't participate. When my friends were getting married, buying homes, and excelling in their careers, I was going nowhere. However, I did make several trips to the city jail.
I won't bore you anymore with my story, but I will say that at the age of thirty, I decided to "grow up". I joined the rat race, married a beautiful girl, had a son, and later bought a home. I even went back to school and earned my Masters degree, at night of course.
I have changed quite a bit in the last ten years, but who hasn't? I have calmed down considerably. Having a child kind of does that to you, I think. I am much more tolerant of others and less prone to losing my temper than I used to be. My negative mental attitude has mostly been changed to a positive outlook. But most of all I have changed the way I view myself.
I don't beat myself up the way I did in the past. When I mess up, and I often do, I cut myself some slack. When others criticize me, I am able to accept their criticism and consider it, as opposed to stomping off angrily and cursing about their shortcomings. I like myself these days, and because of that, I am able to be a better friend to others. I am able to not only love my enemies, but to forgive them and focus on whatever qualities they have that I admire. I have come to realize that people don't think about me as much as I once thought they did. They have their own problems and their own fears and insecurities. When they act out, it usually has nothing to do with me. They might just be having a bad day, and rather than be angry at them for hurting my precious little feelings, I should have compassion for what they might be going through.
Does life begin at forty? For me, the answer is yes. Rather than lamenting my age, I choose to embrace it and make a point to practice the wisdom that was given to me through my experiences. Yes life would have been much different had I known then what I know now. But I had to learn these things on my own, in my own way. My life, however difficult I chose to make it, had to be just as it was.
Yes I have learned a great deal and made much progress, but I am fully aware that I am not even close to having arrived. There is so much more to learn and so much more growth to be experienced. No, forty isn't old, not for a late bloomer like myself. It really is a beginning.