My friend Nora sashayed into the office, and it was obvious that even a cat that had just licked the cream had nothing on her, going by the very-pleased-with-herself look on her face. I was young, sure that all my nine lives were intact; I let curiosity get the better of me.
I trotted behind her to her desk. “How much did you win?”
“What?” She looked up, eyes glinting.
“The charity sweepstake lottery,” I prompted. (It was long before SportPesa, Betika, and their betting siblings.)
“Even better,” came her drawn-out response, clearly enjoying her moment in the spotlight.
“It’s my 40th birthday.”
Cue the dirge.
I pressed play on my Colgate toothpaste smile, mouthed Happy Birthday, and slithered back to my desk to write out payment vouchers, or bank reconciliations, or whatever else occupied this young accountant.
Forty?! Forty?! Who turns forty?
Not that I wanted her dead, but the thought, like a pebble in a shoe, niggled and refused to let go.
My twenty-seven-year-old self was far from convinced that turning forty was a good thing – as if one has any say. Before long, the irritation became too much. I had to pause, remove the proverbial shoe and shake out the pesky stone. I gingerly made my way back to Nora’s desk, equal measure determined and timid, and begged to ask her a question.
“Sure,” she tossed nonchalantly.
“Is it really okay?” I asked.
For slimmer, sweet, fresh-faced me, with my whole life ahead, forty was centuries away. It was the graveyard of dreams, the slippery downhill to the end of life. What good could possibly be found there? That marker of old age, a place of little strength, the last leg of life, joyless, staring at the inevitable retirement. I was heartbroken for my friend… whose life (in my opinion) was all but over.
Today, I am older than my friend was then. I can’t tell you how often I literally get out my calculator to confirm my age, always in disbelief because … well, it can’t be, can it, really?
I am often addressed variously as Madam, Ma’am, and Aunty, reminding me I am, indeed, dangerously flirting with the so-touted fantastic fifties. These supposedly respectful names remind me I am sitting squarely in the middle of life… panic attack. And I feel like the time of my life is running out before I have done (accomplished?) important things – run for political office, write a series of bestsellers, be appointed my country’s envoy to … you know, someplace.
The empty nest leers wickedly at me, and once in a while, I get hijacked by thoughts like, you are too old. I, after all, live on a continent with a median age of 19 years. My Snapchat and TikTok people do not spare me either; their often exasperated ‘Muuuum’ with its attendant eye roll eloquently tells me how slow and out of touch they think I am. Popular values and ways of thinking often sound too foreign to me; they leave me with my face buried in my hands in despair – how can I even engage? I have often preached that it’s never too late to do the things you’ve always wanted to do, but is it true, I now wonder. And the world – so broken … what is my contribution?
That day, a good twenty years ago, my friend looked at me and declared she had never felt better. In fact, she went on to share that she was coming to believe the adage, “Life begins at forty.” She felt ready to take on the world! I have had the privilege of watching her do exactly that. Pivoted from business to youth ministry. Went back to school, captained an important organisation, undertook entrepreneurial ventures for herself and her organisation, and is now in global training. She has mentored her children and countless younger people (yours truly included!), became a doting Grandma, and is still at it.
It’s clear she took up her unique opportunities and was not held back by lies of advancing age or fears it might be too late or her actions won’t amount to much. She obviously did not live it all at once; it was a moment, a day, a season, at a time. And as they are wont to do, actions pile up and multiply; seeds planted bear others, money deposited in the bank (ideally) earns interest, written words add up, and little steps like a short course here and there snowball into significance. While in retrospect, what we see is an amazing life, it was lived in days and moments.
I could take the example of her life, or I could retreat to excuses, which come rather easy for me. The call to give up, the whispers that it’s futile, too little, just not enough, will never amount to much; times have changed, why not bury the dream and play safe? The eager carriage of the imposter syndrome, always hovering, ready to carry me off to the cave where they bury talents.
While I might not immediately change the world, on any given day, I know God’s will and the resources he has put in my hands, however much or little they may seem. I also have a master who celebrates venturing (ask the three servants entrusted with five, two, and one talents) and can multiply daily faithful acts of obedience. I realise that excuses abound; if one is not too young, they are too old, so it’s a daily choice – to venture or play it safe.
How sobering to know that I will give an account. The three servants, actually a parable of the kingdom of God, had to give an account. The venturing of the first two was celebrated, while the third servant who buried his talent was damned. It’s a no-brainer that we all want to hear ‘well done, good and faithful servant,’ and it’s also clear that today’s actions determine what we’ll hear on that day.
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