Jump directly to the content
This Is 40 smswigart / Flickr

This Is 40


Apr 10 2014
My upcoming birthday has me already thinking of dying.

Gloria Steinem recently turned 80. In a New York Times essay on the eve of Steinem's birthday, Gail Collins celebrates how the "face of feminism" has aged. Though Steinem's name is synonymous with the historic movement, she remains modest about her accomplishments.

"It's a big gift to be recognized as part of something that matters to people, but that's not the same thing as being responsible for something."

Steinem, in her 20s, had planned to write, "The Death Book," which would have included "great stories and last words and other anecdotes about dying." Not surprisingly, the young Steinem failed to interest a publisher in the book, and ironically, the old Steinem has lacked the disciplined quiet to write it. (She celebrated 80 in Botswana, and as Collins writes, is resolved toward "moving the movement forward.")

I now wonder if Steinem's legacy is owed to her understanding of life's brevity, if her achievements can be attributed to her preoccupation, even as a young woman, with death.

In a month, I'll turn 40. I am now reading essays on aging with avid interest, and I'm even brooding on death (which will no doubt seem extraordinary, if not morose). I feel myself to be an oddity among my peers. Who thinks of death when there is still so much life ahead? Why give thought to life's wintering when it is summer and we are young? Forty is the new 20—right?

Perhaps it's my own father's death as a 40-something that forces on me an awareness of life's borrowed qualities. He died before he grayed, when I was 18 and lacking keen sense of the injustice of the timing. Friends and family gathered, lining up to convey their condolences for this young man's death. It all made so little sense to me at the time. Except that now I'm nearly 40 and feel my own entitlement to more decades. More time.

Pamela Druckerman, in her essay, What You Learn in Your 40s, describes the "now-or-never mood" of this season of life. "We still have time for a second act, but we'd better get moving on it." It looks this way to me: atop the proverbial hill (over which I soon fall), we feel ourselves young. But our own lived history, the fact that we've cleared some trees and caught a view of the horizon line—this chastens our youthful naiveté. There is nothing forever about 21. Time indeed runs out.

How do I die? And die well? We don't know how to ask these questions. We aren't seeking for their answers. But we should. The Bible itself is preoccupied with death, insisting that life is only lived well with mortality in view. "The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty... They are soon gone, and we fly away... So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom," (Psalm 90:10, 12).

Related Topics:Aging; Death
Support our work. Subscribe to CT and get one year free.

Comments

To add a comment you need to be a registered user or Christianity Today subscriber.

orSubscribeor
More from Her.menutics
How to Address America’s Foster Care Crisis? It Takes a Village

How to Address America’s Foster Care Crisis? It Takes a Village

The next wave of the evangelical adoption movement will rely on the church's support.
There's Never Enough Time

There's Never Enough Time

What I’ve learned as a working mother about the limits of time management.
Why Adult Coloring Works for Christians

Why Adult Coloring Works for Christians

I mocked the coloring book trend, until I discovered it for myself.
Does the Road to Character Run Through Silicon Valley?

Does the Road to Character Run Through Silicon Valley?

The HBO show draws us in with deeper questions about power and morals.
Include results from Christianity Today
Browse Archives:

So Hot Right Now

Blessed Are the Agnostics

How I learned to see my unbelieving husband through God’s eyes.

Twitter

  • RT @thinkchristian: If you haven't watched the Chewbacca Lady yet we have it here, along w/ some thoughts on joy https://t.co/WBUDIFnqLc ht2026
  • @KellyMRosati @KirstenPowers The best stories and friendships are!
  • @KirstenPowers @KellyMRosati Totally didn't realize you were BFFs! That's great!
  • Will better planning solve our time angst? If only2026 https://t.co/LaOAAqntE3
  • RT @TrevinWax: Trevin's Seven: Links for your weekend reading https://t.co/qiZ60p9ntR


What We're Reading

CT eBooks and Bible Studies

Christianity Today
This Is 40