Last night, stricken by a case of insomnia, I came across an article that I would have to say is the best I have read so far this year. The article was in the Huffington Post: Emily Mendell’s “This is 45: The Eye of Life’s Storm.” It is hard to say why it is so good, but it is clear that other people are able to recognize its quality, as well. The post, which is simply a 45 year old woman’s take on what it means to be 45, had been up for one day and had garnered over 11,000 likes, 400 comments, and 1,300 shares.
It may be seem odd that I, a 36-year-old man, would pick such an article as the best-so-far of this new year. After-all, how much can I really have in common with a 45-year-old woman? In thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that the article’s popularity is based on drawing the reader’s attention to the fact that all of us actually have more things in common than things that separate us. After-all, what’s in nine years, or 20, or 50 when we feel the same emotions, just in different contexts? The article displays a simple truthfulness and thoughtfulness that any writer knows is easier to enjoy than to accomplish. I can admire the technical skill of the article: How do you write about being 45 without being too specific or too general? Despite this, perhaps the most fascinating feature of the article is that it is a window to life at a different age, or at least a possible life at a different age. This is something that fascinates a certain segment of the population.
A lifelong diarist myself, on the odd occasion that I go through an old journal, I might find little notes to myself of the future, but what is most often found is perplexity about the present. I have found that in going through these journals I rarely find my past self offering any insight that isn’t readily apparent to my present self. This has made going back to them them for me increasingly rare and seemingly overtly nostalgic. Indeed, the story of my past is one of a few lessons learned the hard way. But, enough about me: What’s it like to be 45?
“Forty-five is the eye of life’s storm. The emotional drama of growing up is behind you, the physical perils of aging are still to come. In these years of quiet, it is easier to be grateful … and fearful. You are an expert on more things than you care to be, and you realize that most of your life has been of your own making. Yes, you are dealt cards that are both good and bad, but you are the one who plays them. With that realization comes a feeling of late great responsibility. You come to terms with how many moments, days, months have been squandered. You vow to do better; you know that you won’t.
“Forty-five is being grateful for friends and loved ones who are a few months older than you as they can gracefully cross that aging threshold and turn 45 first, paving your way to the next year, each year. It is acknowledging that there is no longer a first mover advantage when it comes to growing older.
“Forty-five is when every birthday candle wish is ‘good health for those I love.’
“At 45 you routinely leave the house without makeup; only sometimes do you brush your hair. The number of people for whom you need to look presentable declines precipitously as does the criteria for ‘presentable.’ Your favorite outfit is a pair of velour pajamas and the best part of each day is when you climb into bed.”
Of course, not being a 45-year-old woman, I am in no place to comment on the quality of this rendition beyond saying that it is well and beautifully written. However, one of the overriding criticisms of the article is that Mendell is too complacent. The following are some of the top comments.
“Robin N: I am 48 and can’t relate to this at all. She is going to have a long, boring life ahead of her if this is how she already feels. My 40′s and upcoming 50′s are just a number, not a signal to jump into my pajamas and stop looking for new and interesting experiences.”
“Danielle K: This is kind of awful! The writer makes 45 seem like 85!!! Depressing”
“Laura H: I’m 45. I’ll be 46 in about a month. This article is total bullshit. I haven’t given up. I don’t go out in public wearing PJs. I’m not afraid of a little plastic surgery to stay young looking. I won’t go out w/o makeup unless it’s to the gym, where I work very hard on a body that’s better than most 25 YO’s.
You can’t pigeonhole people into what you think they are at 45. We’re individuals. We all deal with aging differently. Or not at all.”
So, which is it? A few possibilities come to mind. First, perhaps life is what you make it. Mendell lives the writer’s life and is more a caretaker and contemplator than a fighter. Perhaps, on the other hand, what we have is something different. Mendell mentions that she started writing about being 45 soon after turning that age in November. Perhaps she had been thinking about writing the article, based on another writer’s June blog about turning 38, even before she turned 45. Perhaps what we are reading is not so much what it is like to be 45 but what someone who is dreading turning 45 thinks it will be like. But, perhaps the article is not so easily pigeonholed or dismissed.
Some of the elements that I like most about the article are those that are most disparaged: the human elements not shared on a daily basis, the sort of confessional that only a blogger is privileged and perhaps able to provide. Most of all is the fear, fear for one’s own health and the fear of what will happen to loved ones. This comes through even in the title, referencing the eye of a storm.
“The emotional drama of growing up is behind you, the physical perils of aging are still to come. In these years of quiet, it is easier to be grateful … and fearful.
“Forty-five is constantly counting your blessings while simultaneously trying to calculate when your luck will run out. You see pain and sadness all around you, and know it’s only a matter of time before it hits your home. You pray for all the hardships to fall on your shoulders, as opposed to those you love.
“At 45, anyone five years younger than you is a “baby”; anyone five years older is an equal. Commiseration is a rounding up exercise.”
Some of the best parts of the article are in the minute details.
“It is two decades of marriage and learning to appreciate your spouse in more ways every day. … The ability to have entire conversations through a single raised eyebrow across the dinner table, without ever opening your mouth is one of the coolest, sexiest things about being together for so long.
“Forty-five is full of fleeting moments of bliss and despair as you watch your children grow up into independent young adults, thanking the universe that you raised them well in one breath, and wondering what will become of them in the other.”
Perhaps my picking out Mendell’s article might be considered odd considering that she is merely a blogger with a handful of articles for the Huffington Post, none of which have been nearly as successful as this one. At the same time, you don’t have to write for the New Yorker to be able to write a great piece.
In order to gain a little perspective, I asked my mother, who I can only say has the advantage on Mendell by a few years and is perhaps in the best position of all to assess the article.
“Right now I can only think of my present age, living one day at a time, and being grateful for what I have been blessed with in the past, not worrying about the future and what it will bring, but living in the moment.
“Life is good, and gratitude tops my list.”