Perspective on Turning Forty

waiting for your jaw to close…5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1…you good?             Cool, let’s proceed.

I have answered many questions correctly in my life. Having completed 24 years of school, racking up along the way a research Ph.D. in organic chem natural products total synthesis, a National Institutes of Health postdoc fellowship, and 25 patents & publications over a 9+ year career, that’s a safe statement. I make it not to Pump<clap>Me Up, but to set the stage for a question I’ve been tussling with for awhile that Mary Oliver poses below. Peering back, this was on my mind even as a 10yr old girl who wished for better medicines to save her grandmother’s life from cancer.

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I’ve climbed mountains of enormity, pondered immense landscapes, sought total stillness & isolation from the world, flung myself into the air, crossed turbulent rivers, bore witness to death, faced mortality, partied with abandon, pushed my body to limits I had thought were impossible, gathered wisdom, navigated ‘against the stream’ life paths, turning this round & round in my head. Coming up on what society marks as a major milestone has made the question again bubble to the top with vigor.

My initial estimation on the best way to turn forty was becoming comfortable with loss, which goes hand-in-hand with aging. Loss of loved ones, of abilities, the rosy face of my youth, of time, and on and on. I have decided that is a defeatist attitude. The answer to the question above, for me, is to Give Love and to be Of Use. Nothing ground breaking there that hasn’t been expressed more elegantly by minds 100x more powerful than mine. But there it is. Doesn’t matter so much the who, the what & the where; distilled down to its essence is to add value to a worthy effort and to increase love’s exponent anywhere I can (and yah, I fully embrace my science geekiness).

So if today I am 40 yrs old and tomorrow I am 40 plus one day older, then I will rejoice because it is another fresh day to pursue my goals and redouble my efforts toward those ends, in whatever way that manifests. No matter the age, be thankful for what remains and what is still possible.  To what purpose will you apply your life? Don’t fall into auto-formulas, and give those thoughts, wherever they arise from, that “by this age I should be doing this or I can’t do that because I’m too old/young” the biggest Big Bird flip-off you can muster!

Lastly, I would go back and say to that little girl that we are doing our very best to solve that and other terribly difficult problems, and she will get to stand on the outer horizons of human medicine. How cool is that!

Here is Mary Oliver’s poem in full:

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