On my 40th birthday, grinning and in love with life, I slipped in the mud and fell on my ass.
Okay, fine; it wasn’t actually my ass; it was my hip and leg and chest — my entire right side caked in mud from the impact of hitting the slimy, muddy hill intent on ruining my afternoon.
I felt like an ass, to be sure. I was listening to some indie emo song as one does when she turns 40, and as I fell I reached out my hand to catch my fall and ripped out my wired earphones, because of course my air pods weren’t charged and I still have wired earphones because I am old and set in my ways.
I turned around to see a whippersnapper in his late twenties and, presumably, his father, whose white beard and sunglasses glinted in the sun as he waved to me wildly, shouting, “ARE YOU OKAY?”
That did seem to be the question of the week. Turning 40 had me feeling pensive, taking stock of my life, reading old journal entries and grieving for the girl who got so many things wrong, celebrating the times she seemed to do right.
I turned to the bearded man and laughed, waving off his concern. I was buoyed by the idea of how ridiculous I must have looked, in my muddy white tee and pink velour scrunchie. Hilarious.
When I was 20 I would have been so embarrassed, I thought. I would have wished to be swallowed by the muddy ground that knocked me from my feet. I would have tied the event to my identity, certain that I would forever be “the girl who falls in the mud,” when all I wanted to be was shiny and perfect.
This day was different.
I had laced up my shoes and walked to the park a half mile from our house, a quintessential western Washington shoreline—autumn leaves, a rocky beach, a view across the water. After a (very) rainy morning, the sun won out over the clouds, and the waters of the Narrows were sparkling. As I walked, I felt a spring in my step, like I used to as a child, ponytail swinging.
I was full of memories from the night before: a romantic dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant with my favorite guy. A drive along another shoreline, this one in West Seattle, which flooded me with memories of my single days. Remembering the joy and promise I felt as I once jogged along those waters, wondering if that smart and witty man who had captured my interest would write me back again.
And memories from before that: the first time I set my eyes on the Puget Sound, soy latte and journal in hand, when it seemed so clear that I needed to move to Seattle.
I belong here, I had thought then. I belong here, I thought now. My chest expanded as I acknowledged that truth. I’m right where I need to be. This place. This place right here, with the love of my life (who did, in fact write back, many times).
It was in the midst of this reverie, bouncing along, grinning at every stranger I passed, that my feet suddenly lost purchase on the muddy trail.
Whoomph. On the ground.
The mud covered my side so completely that I needed several wide maple leaves to slough it off; I laughed as I drug my hands along the damp grass in an attempt to clean them, too. So this is 40, I thought, grinning wildly as I picked myself up and followed the path into the woods.
My therapist reminded me today that after turning 40, we’re still allowed to be imperfect. She laughed, “We don’t magically turn into Yoda, I can tell you that, 5 years in.”
Maybe that’s why a slip in the mud on my 40th birthday felt like a tiny moment of grace. Because of course I don’t have it all figured out. Of course I’m going to keep falling down. Of course I’m going to end up covered in mud and shaking my head at my inherent lack of attention to the path beneath my feet.
For now, I’ve decided my pink scrunchie is my new favorite accessory. I’ll wear it to remind me of how I want to show up in the world: with a belly full of laughter, an eye for kindness, and hands ready to dig into the earth to uncover what is useful for today.