The May of Life


At a poetry event recently, I read a poem I wrote a couple of years ago, “Love Letter to Stories.” One of the lines was this:

My endings
are narrowing all of the time.

While I spent most of my time with my grandparents on previous trips to China, it was my aunt and uncle who accompanied us on our outings during this most recent trip. I visited my cousin in his own home, met his wife and his newborn daughter. I felt a stark sense of all of us having aged out of one era and into the next.

At age 31, I’m aware that I’m still young, but I feel increasingly conscious of my aging. In photos from even four or five years ago, my skin seems smooth and unmarked compared to the face that greets me each morning in the bathroom mirror. Not only do I have two white hairs (I resolved on my 30th birthday to stop pulling them out when they appeared), but my white hairs have been around for so long that they have split ends.

Often, it feels too late to make sweeping changes in the trajectory of my life. I’ve hurtled myself into the space of time, and while I may be able to steer a few degrees this way or that, surely the course has already been set.

Recently, I thought of the perfect analogy to remind myself of how many possibilities are still open to me. If I can reasonably expect to live to the age of 90 (based on the lifespans of my ancestors), then 31 is at the beginning of the second third of my life. 31 is the spring of life. The May of life, if you will.

Right now, in early May, there are some things that are already impossible for me to do this year. If I want to give birth to a baby this year, too late. I’m not pregnant, and even if I could conceive today, the only way I’d give birth this year would be a medical emergency. Similarly, at age 31, there are some possibilities that are already off limits for the course of my life. It’s probably too late for me to have a serious ballet performance career, like my sister does; she expects to retire around my age.

But, even if we haven’t taken a single step toward them yet by early May, there is still room in this year for enormous undertakings and changes for any of us. The year I ran a marathon in November, I started training in May. My parents married about six months after they met, so someone single in May could be married by December. Between May and December, you could change jobs, move somewhere new, or meet a whole new circle of friends.

At age 31, there are still countless things that I can do from here, the May of my life. Not only can I steer my ship a few degrees, but I can swing it in a wide arc in any direction.

My endings may be narrowing all of the time, but they are not narrow.