If I’ve learned anything in my life, it is that each day is an opportunity. And that ABBA’s music is timeless. Next week I will turn 40; let’s take a look back.
For the first ten years of my life, I gathered information (leaves don’t taste good but frosting does), tested limits (my sister will only take so much pestering), made note of important rules (don’t jump on the bed), searched for my talents (Nurse Maren to the rescue!), and learned to dance (ABBA and Boney M. had better dance beats than John Denver). I soaked in the love and acceptance I felt from my immediate family, my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, church teachers, school teachers, and God. I learned the metric system and the Dewey Decimal system.
The next 10 years were something of an adventure. I tried to make sense of things that were clearly wrong in the world and rejoiced in the beauty of nature, the feeling of goodness, and the availability of kind people. I was affected by the emotions of others. I tried to sort out and understand my own soul and how the world worked. I began to understand the love of my Heavenly Father. I was given an allowance, chores, a radio, a camera, and a journal (although I was too self-conscious to write in it back then). Eventually I had access to a car, a wider circle of friends, a later curfew, and clues about what my parents had been like before I existed. I also spent a lot of time in public school classes, a darkroom, on a stage, and at Saturday night church dances. I was the spokeswoman for a political activism group at my high school: Students for Deficit Reduction. I sang along to ABBA, a-ha, Debbie Gibson and Erasure at the top of my lungs when driving alone. I left home and went to college in Utah where I met important people, joined a dance troupe, and chose a field of study. And I learned to trust myself and my vision. I became an artist.
The years from 20 to 30 involved a lot of travel and moving, really important decisions, photography, self-discipline, marriage, and children. I discovered that when I ran out of charity, I could dig deeper and God would lend me more. Same thing went for patience- if I didn’t give up. I learned that my Dad was right: it doesn’t matter how many children you have, raising children takes all of your time. And it’s worth it all. I learned a thing or two about cooking, like how to make molasses cookies in Turkey where there is no molasses and how to roast vegetables. I found that sometimes the only cure for a dark day is dancing in the kitchen.
I am now coming to the end of my fourth decade, although it’s only the end of my 30’s. The children have taken (almost) all of my time and I love them so much. They are incredibly, unbelievably wonderful and precious, despite the challenges we encounter daily. I have learned how to can applesauce and clean with vinegar instead of 409. I can do laundry while I brush my teeth, I can rake an acre of leaves while settling an argument about whose turn it is with the longest stick, and I can find almost any lost thing. (You mean that piece of cardboard you were playing with four days ago? It’s under your sister’s pillow.) ABBA still makes it onto my treadmill playlist alongside selected Coldplay, Owl City, Vampire Weekend, a-ha, Keane, U2, and Stray Cats. I still dance.
I really like the movie Groundhog Day- even though it is nearly impossible to watch more often than once every three years. If you haven’t watched it since 2009, put it in your queue. It is an insightful interpretation of life and an interesting study of life’s important things versus life’s unimportant things. As time speeds up for me with each decade, the days become both increasingly repetitive and increasingly valuable for their uniqueness and potential. It is so important for me to say the meaningful things I think in my head and love the people I love- without forgetting to wash the sheets and towels.
Lisel Mueller wrote a very fine poem about reaching mid-life. Sometimes I wonder when the midpoint will be or was. Is 40 halfway there? Is 47, or was it 28? She prefaces the poem with this thought: “There is less difficulty—indeed, no logical difficulty at all—in
imagining two portions of the universe, say two galaxies, in which time goes one way in one galaxy and the opposite way in the other. . . . Intelligent beings in each galaxy would regard their own time as ‘forward’ and time in the other galaxy as ‘backward.’ ”
—Martin Gardner, in Scientific American
Somewhere now she takes off the dress I am
Here’s to the hypothetical Maren who is now growing younger, unlearning the things I haven’t learned yet, getting ready for the challenges I have already faced, passing me on the tracks. One word of advice: take some good music along for the ride. I’ll do the same.
“I have a dream, a song to sing, to help me cope with anything
If you see the wonder of a fairy tale
You can take the future even if you fail
I believe in angels, something good in everything I see
I believe in angels, when I know the time is right for me
I’ll cross the stream, I have a dream….”
Thirty Marens agree: 40 is full of potential.