Being the geographer I am I know that female life expectancy in NZ is 81.46 years. That makes me officially middle aged as of Thursday. I am having a really hard time getting my head around this!
I have always been quite excited about birthdays and finding ways to celebrate. This was the first one I really just ignored until it arrived. My darling family were bugging me right up to the last minute about what and how we were going to acknowledge my number day.
This whole situation has resulted in some serious reflection time. So here are a few of my musings…
What are you supposed to have achieved by middle age? A happy marriage. Nope. A kid or two. Nope. That house with the accompanying mortage. Nope. A successful career. Hmm, debatable. I LOVE my work environment but it took me a step backwards and a serious pay cut to get there.
I have also had a very non-linear employment journey. In my mind I think this means I could give practically anything a go. Unfortunately it has held me back as many prospective employers are not too sure what to do with me. My current team leader would be the exception. She took a chance on me and her support has been invaluable. She definitely gives me space to play to my strengths and for that I will be eternally grateful… And there it is, the first blessing to count.
But what about the rest…
Well, for the girl so passionate about her birth place Africa – its red earth in my DNA – I sure have a lot of stamps in passports. So reluctant to leave. Yet that first travel experience in 1994 literally opened a world of possibility.
And so I can tell you what it feels like to wander the streets of London, Paris, New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Rome, Florence, Pisa, Nice, Genoa, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Wellington, Melbourne, Bath, Bristol, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, Maputo, Harare, Gabarone, Montpellier, Volterra, San Gimignano, Lucca, Windsor, Aylesbury, Waikiki, Hilo and Auckland.
I have watched the countryside roll by from the windows of cars, buses, trains in Pennsylvania, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, England, Scotland, France, Tuscany, the Lake District, the North and South Islands of NZ, Botwana, Zimbabwe, and all around South Africa.
I have had more breathtaking moments than I can count in nature – that is where my soul really sings. Standing on the edge of Lake Wanaka or catching my breath at the top of Mt Tongariro. Breathing in the silence in the Kgalagadi red dunes. Drinking in the view from the top of the Drakensberg escarpment looking over Mpumalanga. Watching the seasonal waters arrive in the heart of the Okavango Delta. The itchy heat of a summer day in the north of Kruger Park. The numb on my face of standing in the snow at Glencoe or sailing with the wind in my face on Loch Ness, letting the sand ooze between my toes at Waimea Bay, north shore of Oahu or standing on the edge of the world at Kilauea Crater, Hawaii.. and so so so many more. What an immense privilege!
I got to call some interesting places “home”. My two little places in Maun, Botswana come to mind. Or avoiding the hippos and the sleeping elephants on my walk back to my little house in the heart of the Delta each evening. My quirky shipping container house in Blikkiesdorp, Twee Rivieren, Kgalagadi.
As I recall these places and times I am also reminded of the incredible people I have met and shared life with even if just for a short time.
Seeing life in this way has so often taken me out of myself. What I mean is that so much of life today is taken up with just getting through the day for all of us. It can be quite an insular experience especially for an introvert like me. Yes, I need the time by myself to reflect, mediate and recharge but too much time alone is never good. We are wired for connection. Travelling and moving around has been the best way for me to get out of my comfort zone and connect with people. Again, what an immense privilege!
And so yes, I am now middle aged. No, I have not achieved any of the milestones usually associated with life at this point. But no regrets, only oodles of gratitude for a life rich in experiences. May I do this richness justice by using what I have learned along the way to live more carefully on this planet and show more compassion for you, my fellow travellers in the second half of my life.
And I think I will continue to wear candy striped sneakers – the ones my amazing sister got me for my birthday because the style name is the same as mine. I will still love the Harry Potter books and movies and anything by JRR Tolkien and even teen movies from the 80s like The Breakfast Club…. and I will still believe in magic…
With that I am adventure bound once more – leaving for Edinburgh on Thursday. Some time on a job experience programme at Edinburgh Zoo and then to England for time with special family…. can’t wait!
Ending off with two of my most favourite quotes, more like mantras these days…
“Not all those who wander are lost” JRR Tolkien
“Have courage and be kind” Cinderella