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Juggling Glass Balls

I turned 47 last week. Praise Be. And I am so grateful to be here with a suitcase full of lessons learned. How many times have we heard, “if only I’d know this twenty years ago.” But thank goodness, we didn’t.

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If we’d known the lessons we know now, we wouldn’t have had any fun and our memories would be as stale as yesterday’s toast.

Originally, George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is Wasted on the Young.”

But what if wisdom is wasted on the old? What if, with our wisdom in tow, we can reclaim the beauty, wonder, and fun of our youth?

There was something weird and unexpected that happened as my birthday approached…I experienced a little panic at the disco. I surprisingly experienced the same sense of utter confusion as I turned 40.

When I turned 39, I expected to feel a sense of something…impending doom, perhaps? But as I closed in on 40, no extra feelings happened. Until they did. And then it felt like something in my soul was scrambling. I was taking stock of life lived and pondering the intentionality of my behavior in the years to come.

If I am 40, I thought, and I know people who have died much younger than 80, then half of my life could be over. I tried to put such fatalistic thoughts out of my mind, but sometimes I think something greater than ourselves is at work. Deep in our DNA is a survival mindset, accompanied with the divine that prompts us to ponder, feel, and act.

But 47 is different, because 47 is on the 50 side of forty. And those last seven years went by oh so fast. There was so much chaos that I hardly remember them. Throw in a pandemic, a divorce, a couple of moves, some teenagers, and it’s a foggy assortment of memories.

The lines on my forehead are becoming a little more noticeable and classmates are sending kids to college and having grand babies. A friend recently said, “I am TOO young to be a grandmother!” But after doing the math, we realized our own grandmothers were younger than us when we were born.

The beautiful thing about growing older is the wisdom you gain from all the goat rodeos you’ve participated in. If somebody deserves a lifetime achievement award for wrangling proverbial goats and chasing headless chickens, it’s me.

Just like a lot of people, I’ve experienced love and loss and all the unexpected and shocking chaos that comes with it, and a whole lot of people who, shall we say, are “touched.” (Touched is a nice Southern way of saying idiots)

So how do we manage it all? How do we manage these years I call the “thick of it”? People like to say that the sleepless nights of raising babies and toddlers is when you’re in the thick of it, but I’d take a spit-up covered shirt and a night with a 6-week-old all over again in exchange for these current years of never ending demands.

This new “thick of it” feels like being in a vice grip. The early “thick of it” years seemed only to give pressure from one side, leaving the future wide open with hope and possibilities. But now the pressure comes from every direction. Teenagers are stretching and taking more space in the nest, in preparation for flight. Their behaviors, good and bad, have adult consequences, but they’re still just kids. Our grandparents and parents are aging and slipping away. For spicy kicks, throw in a round of menopause, ailing friends, failing marriages, economic uncertainty, and professional responsibilities.

But just like we knew the babies wouldn’t keep, neither will this season. The changes may feel painful and permanent, and in some cases they are. But our outlook doesn’t have to be painful and permanent.

So what do we do about it? At a recent therapy session (because did you read the above paragraphs?), my counselor said, “You have a lot of balls in the air – the key is remembering which ones are rubber and which ones are glass.”

It’s tempting to think that every ball in the air is glass and upon being dropped it will shatter. But it isn’t true. So many of the balls in the air are rubber and if dropped, will either be caught by someone else, will bounce back up for us to catch when our hands are empty, or will bounce away.

It’s hard to know which ones are rubber, but if we steal some time in the quiet, we usually can sort it out. The next step is letting it bounce. Gosh, maybe we could simply hand it off before it ever falls.

So back to youth being wasted on the young and turning 40. With all the demands of life creating a pressure cooker, I realized that I had to be intentional about fun. Talking about self-care when the world is burning all around you feels silly and selfish. But I give you permission to think differently, because we will either roman candle or burn out…maybe both.

Let one of the rubber balls bounce and replace it with the glass ball of taking care of yourself – not just going to the doctor or getting rest, but also having fun. Put something on the calendar at least once a month that exists for no other reason than to have fun. The benefits of reduced stress, connections, and improved mood will give you energy to face and continue forward with strength against the demands of life.

And friend, in case no one has told you recently – you really are a master at juggling.

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Dana is an Arkansas native and a seasonal resident of the Gulf Coast since childhood. She was a Pensacola resident for 13 years, before moving to Gulf Breeze. Dana attributes her Mayberry-esque childhood in Warren, Arkansas, as enormously influential in honing her definitely Southern style of storytelling. She earned a degree in Journalism, Advertising/Public Relations from the University of Arkansas (Woo Pig Sooie!). In addition to writing, she loves photography, art, adventures in the great outdoors, and spending time with her three children.