The August issue of JUF News talks a lot about age.
First, we feature 36 Chicago-area Jews under age 36 living extraordinary lives. Then, we focus on tweens, around age 12 or 13, in our bar/bat mitzvah section.
We're thrilled to spotlight the accomplishments and milestones of both age groups: Young Jews, either stepping up to the Torah for the first time as an adult member of the Jewish community; or 20- and 30-somethings-a little bit further along in this path of adulthood, who have already begun to leave an imprint on the Jewish world and beyond.
Personally, I've been contemplating age a lot this year because I'm turning a number ending in "0"--and starting with "4"--at the end of the year.
In the beloved rom-com When Harry Met Sally , there's a scene where Harry consoles a devastated Sally after her boyfriend breaks up with her.
Sally (bawling): "…And I'm going to be 40!"
Harry: "In eight years!"
Sally: "But it's there! It's like a big dead end!"
Oh, Sally. Dead end? Not even close.
Like Sally, I used to find myself freaking out about big birthdays, months and months ahead of time.
I tended to stress out on the 9's and 4's, worrying not during the years ending in 5 or 0, but rather the year before. Then, by the time I actually landed on the milestone age, I'd gotten the anxiety of turning said age out of my system.
For instance, at 24, I had a quarter-life crisis, but by 25, I was over it. At 29, I freaked out, but sailed happily through 30. And the same pattern repeated for 34, going on 35.
It's probably due to my prominent anxiety gene--inherited from both my family and all the Jewish people ever, dating back to Abraham--creeping up on me early and often and coaxing me to worry about challenges long before they happen, if ever.
So in typical form, with my 40 th birthday now less than six months off, I've decided to get all my panicking out of the way now-because that way, once I hit 40, I can embrace my new year and decade with a calm after the storm.
But the thing is, I'm not freaking out a whole lot this year. Now, don't get me wrong. A lot of other anxieties--like a resurgence of hate and division in the U.S., Israel, and around the world--are keeping me, and I imagine most of you, tossing and turning at night. But my birthday barely registers on my worry list.
The older I get, the more I appreciate this beautiful journey around the sun. Instead of feeling anxious, I'm feeling at peace and blessed as I take stock of my life going into the next decade: I'm blessed with wonderful family and friends, a man I love, good health, physical and spiritual nourishment, and joy; and I'm blessed with the freedom to be a Jewish American woman at a time when I can be whatever I want to be.
I'm blessed to turn a year older-even if I am turning an "over the hill" number. If you think about it, climbing that hill is something for all of us to aspire to. It means we're facing another year of challenges and joys, and hopefully we're facing them with courage and grace.
The Torah considers aging a virtue and blessing, and commands us to respect our elders. In fact, how appropriate that in Hebrew, the word for "old"-- zahein --is synonymous with wise.
As the adage goes: Growing older is better than the alternative. Yup, that's certainly true, but it's more than that. Why don't we adults take a cue from children, stop dreading our big days, and reclaim the joy that used to come with birthdays when we were younger?
Let's greet a new year, a year older and wiser, with joy and pride for all we've been through leading up to that point to get us there. I want to own every one of my 40 candles on my cake because, cumulatively, they've helped me morph into the best version of myself to date.
Whether we're 13 or 36, or have a few more years of wisdom tucked under our belt, we're lucky to get to turn another year older--and that's something worth celebrating.