In the winter of 2000, on the brink of my 30th birthday, the fact that I had no children was a tremendous source of grief and stress to me. I thought about it by the hour. I didn’t want that birthday. I didn’t feel like there was much to celebrate. By my 40th, I had 4 kids, ages 3, 4, 6, and 9. The number 40 didn’t bother me one bit, because for the first time in my life, I was right where I had always wanted to be.
But between then and now, the years sat down on me. Twinkies and Poptarts sat down on me. And under the pressure, I sat down too.
I’ve been sitting ever since.
It came on gradually, with the birth of my youngest daughter 12 years ago, and intensified in 2017 upon the death of my mother. I didn’t see it coming. And I didn’t land there with intention. But nevertheless, I let myself slide into a tunnel of grief and frustration and dormancy.
Waiting for something to happen.
Waiting for the clouds to lift or the hallelujah chorus to sing.
Sitting and waiting.
On February 6, I stepped out of that tunnel, almost as if by magic. Strangely enough, it was a casual lunch date with friends and an online article about the science of hugging that shoved me back into the sunshine.
I almost can’t believe how great it feels to be back in the sunshine.
The article I read on hugging simply stated that the average person needs 4 hugs a day to emotionally survive, 8 to maintain, and 12 to thrive. I couldn’t remember the last person I had hugged that wasn’t my 12 year old or my dog. And suddenly I felt very empty and very much committed to changing that.
So I texted one friend and asked her how much she’d pay me if I greeted another of our friends –a confirmed non-hugger–with a bear hug at lunch that day.
The answer was $10. It’s always $10.
When I arrived at lunch, I started to mentally backpedal. How could an awkward non-hugger bear hug an even more awkward one?
I gave it a shot. I gave it a good shot. The non-hugger stiff armed me like a runningback for the Philadelphia Eagles. I never had a chance. My attempt was so clumsy that the friend I had bet refused to pay me. She wasn’t getting bilked out of $10 for something as ugly as what she witnessed.
It wasn’t a hug, they said.
I should have been paid, man.
Somewhere between February 6 and March 1, it occurred to me that I had another big birthday coming. I realized that in December of this year, I’ll be 50. And unless I were to commit to some big changes, I was going to be greeting 50 in a housecoat made of sackcloth with a backpack full of broken dreams.
That’s when it hit me.
50 was only bothering me because I spent so long passed out in that tunnel. I am not where I hoped I’d be at 50 as a person.
So I sat down with my favorite pen and a notebook I love and wrote out a list.
50 things to do before my 50th Birthday
Some of them are very short and simple, like introducing myself to the homeless man that sells water on the corner of Hillsborough and 40th. Some of them are more challenging and lengthy, like losing 50 pounds. All of them are exciting.
Nothing changes if nothing changes.
So on Tuesday morning, March 3, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. and got up to walk and pray. On Thursday morning, I went to my first weight watchers meeting (Oh, pardon me, it’s not weight watchers, it’s MY WW…) in 2 years. And on Friday morning, I walked up behind the man on Hillsborough and 40th and sat down on the wall beside him. When we parted, I asked him if I could give him a hug. He hugged me twice.
Every day this week I’ve walked and prayed and set my mind for the day before the sun pried itself through the oak trees. And every day this week, I’ve been smiling like I won the lottery. Because I kind of have.
50 sounds old.
But I don’t have time to worry about how it sounds, because I have 50 things to do before it gets here.
And I’m pretty excited about it.
Stay tuned for more on the #30hugsin30days challenge.