I got a pair of trail shoes for my birthday. They’re pretty tough looking – black with a few purple accents and rugged soles that look like they can take on anything. I wanted them because I do a lot of my running on the C&O canal path, which is flat but covered in stones that my road running shoes pick up like magnets, and also because I’m hoping to get more into hiking and trail running.
The shoes seem a fitting gift for my 40th. They’re made to carry me through rough patches, to help me climb steep hills so I can look out over the vista at the sights I’ve conquered. The trail I’ve traversed in my life hasn’t always been easy (whose is?), but I’m at a point where it feels right to stop and assess – where I’ve been, mistakes I’ve made, what I’ve overcome, what I’ve achieved, what I’m grateful for, and where I go from here.
I am 40 – have been for more than a month. I’m still turning this thought over in my mind, trying it out. The milestone doesn’t bother me, at least not in an “oh my God, I’m so old” kind of way.
Yes, the styles I wore in high school in the 90s are coming back around again. I don’t know half of the people performing at the MTV VMAs (okay, let’s be honest, it’s more like 80%).
I have sun spots on my face and more gray hairs than I want to admit. My belly is a little soft and round after carrying two babies. While I might not love these things, I don’t hate them either.
But one day a couple of months ago, I was on a quiet solo run on the canal path, my mind flitting from one random thing to the next as it often does when I’m running – mulling over a work challenge, planning out a grocery list, thinking about our plans for the upcoming weekend. And then out of nowhere, a thought that was simultaneously obvious and shocking popped into my head like a ringing bell – my days are not infinite.
The thought was so clear, so tangible that I slowed to a walk and then just stopped and stood still, my hands on my hips as I caught my breath. I looked at the Potomac River rolling below the trail. I felt the earth, solid under my feet. I smelled the salty sweat on my skin. And I thought, “Well, okay then. I have to make things count now.”
40 is not nothing. 40 is a lot of years. I hope I still have many, many to go, but now is the time to do the things I want to do, to live the way I want to live. We made a big leap with that goal in mind when we left Baltimore behind for Shepherdstown, WV. My soul can breathe here. My chattering mind has slowed. The kids and I drive by farms and orchards on the way to school in the morning; we say hello to the cows and marvel at the rows and rows of apple trees. On the weekends, we hike by the river, through a tunnel of whitewashed sycamore trees. We play at the park and go to the quaint little library, maybe stopping at the sweet shop for a donut. It is a beautiful place, a beautiful life.
I’ve made other shifts as well – in no small part because Isabelle and Zach are older. They (for the most part) sleep all night, and I’ve never before truly appreciated the power of sleep. Once I started consistently getting seven to eight hours a night – for the first time in years – I told a friend, “I’m pretty sure I can cure cancer now.” Well, maybe not, but I do have energy to do so much more, and now that the kids are not babies, parenting is no longer all-consuming. There are little pockets of time; there is headspace for other things. For me, that means running, yoga, reading, and some writing.
Speaking of time, the weekend of my birthday, my mom and dad came to stay with the kids, and Tim and I went away for two whole nights. Prior to this, in the four years and three months since we first became parents, we had been away at the same time just once – for a single night when Isabelle was eight months old. Needless to say, with an entire weekend all to ourselves, we ran out of this house like kids on the last day of school, hearts bursting with glee.
We stayed local, at a lovely B&B in Harpers Ferry. We did 13 miles of hiking over two days, and I got to break in my new trail shoes. There is something really special about being in nature, away from the rush of the world, with the person you love most. I spent a lot of time that weekend marveling at my luck – at the winding path that brought me here, to the place where I was always meant to be – and dreaming about the adventures that lie ahead on the trail.