By the time you read this (I have always wanted to start a story that way) I will be on a mountaintop in an undisclosed location far, far away.
I will be taking time out on a private and solitary retreat to ponder the last 40 years of my life, and hopefully during that time, I will gain some useful insights about how I would like the next 40 years to go. Yes, I am ignoring the average life expectancy figures in Zimbabwe!
My obsession with turning 40 started two years ago when I turned 38. It suddenly struck me that I could no longer be counted among the spring chickens of life’s coop, but would instead be more likely to be grouped with the Christmas turkeys!
I saw that I would no longer qualify for anything directed at the “youth of the continent”, and that I would now have to compete for adult priviledges and opportunities along with the “real” grown-ups in the world.
So for the last two years I have been gradually increasing my state of panic as I got closer and closer to this moment. We are now operating at the maximum anxiety level.
By far the most alarming thing about turning 40 was the sense of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals.
Without pulling out my notebook in which I wrote down a list of all the things I want to do before I die, it still has been very clear to me over the past two years, that I am falling somewhat shy of the aspirations of my youth.
I am thinking about those books that remain unwritten and unpublished, the post-graduate courses that remain unattended, the skills that stubbornly remain unacquired (dancing being one among them, and everything to do with electricity being another!), the mountains I have not climbed, the children I have not adopted, the acquaintances I have not got round to turn into friends, the leisure time I have not enjoyed and the rest I have not indulged in, are all beckoning to say, “Ahem! What happened? Time is running out.” Add to this a tendency to perfectionism, a full plate of responsibilities at work and at home, a refusal to be defeated by most things (except electricity) and you have a clear idea of what fear of forty looks like.
I deliberated for some time over writing this column for publication. Many of the pieces that end up in this column start out their lives as journal entries for my own consumption and gradually evolve to something one would like to share with others.
Self revelation is fraught with risks at any level, but the more personal the information shared, the higher the level of risk. Even while I was writing it, one part of me wanted to call the editor and tell him that for the first time since the launch of NewsDay two years ago, there would be nothing on the Local Drummer page.
Well, it wasn’t just fear of 40 that dispossessed me of that notion: Fear of editor; fear of publisher; fear of readers and fear of being mother and father all weighed in to see me seated sweetly at my keyboard.
So having given myself a whole two years to mull over the idea of turning 40, I reckon I can now consider myself an expert on the subject. The real fear accompanying the panic over unachieved goals isn’t so much the goals themselves.
The real fear is that one’s life will not have had meaning. We want to have mattered — somehow — to someone, somewhere. And for some people to have mattered to more people, in more ways, on multiple levels means their lives have mattered more. Others are content to matter a lot to a few key individuals.
Either way, it points us back to how the human spirit needs to engage in order to be fulfilled. So now that I am finally older, and wiser, I can see that my life’s to-do list will probably never have a tick in every box. But I know also that the ticks will matter less.
What I have already accomplished is a meaningful contribution to a community that acknowledges my worth. I have achieved a collection of funny and intelligent friends, who are also honest critics and outspoken advocates of the things that matter to our circle.
I have a vast collection of incredibly useful contacts and a small assortment of rather nice handbags. My domestic succession plan is complete with two very ambitious young ladies ready to take over at any minute: “Mommy when you die can I have your red shoes?” And I have had the opportunity to be part of some awesome projects that have had real impact on the course of my country’s history.
So all in all, my life has not by any estimation been without meaning. Perhaps I will go “skiing” in Lesotho after all, and I will conceivably own that little house on the beach in the Caribbean.
Possibly I will learn to play the guitar and the saxophone and I may, by some stroke of good fortune, have dinner with a sheik one day.
There is of course the small matter of the iphone 4S which my colleagues are attending to, and the Soweto Marathon is waiting to be run this December.
But whether or not any of this happens will not be the true determinator of my life’s worth.
And I am happy to be old enough at last to realise that.
.Thembe Khumalo Sachikonye writes in her personal capacity.
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