Totems for the next 40 years

Totems in (near) total. August 2023.

I officially turned 40 in the midst of a dinner party surrounded by my spouse and several close friends, all of whom had already turned 40. The party's age parameter was intentional; I wanted to enter my new decade on the wings of others' wisdom, and my excellent people delivered.

In my guests' invitations, I had included three prompts:

  • Consider: What is your strongest memory from turning 40?
  • Consider: What have you learned so far in your 40 years on earth?
  • Bring: a symbol (a token, a totem … think small and simple) that represents what you wish for me in my next 40 years. Keep it hidden, though, when you arrive.

Responses to the first two prompts emerged over martinis and plates heaped with rich Italian food. The final response, however, unfolded at the evening's close, outside in our summer-dark backyard, circling a firepit for the night's third act.

One by one, my friends unveiled their items and, through them, shared their wish for my next 40 years. There in the flickering firelight, with my friends' faces half-lit and their words delivered softly, I held each symbol in my hands, the better to absorb its embodied wish.

A wooden elephant, to receive communal care in a sisterhood of women.

A plastic spoon, to give and receive nourishment (as well as practice the same level of endurance as microplastics).

A guitar pick, to recall the joy of creative pursuits.

A pack of ear plugs, to summon an occasional quiet moment.

A sparkling thistle brooch, to wear bravely and boldly into my sassy old age.

A LEGO trinket, to inspire a playful, childlike state of mind.

A "write your own" game card, to prompt me to reflect on the story I'm writing for myself.

A chunk of granite, to experience the crystalline fruits of pressure and transformation.

A ceramic bowl gifted by a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, to help me remember that small actions can build to great impact.

A gold earring, a gift to chosen family, to symbolize the people we welcome and keep in our lives.

In its figurative sense, a totem is defined as a sign, symbol, or example, but also as a guiding principle or value. What united my friends' items were the core values they expressed. No one wished me wealth or fame. No one wished me a different day job or long hours worked. Instead they wished me care. Creativity. Community. Reinvention. Dedication. All qualities they embody and bestow in equal measure.

I don't know what the next 40 years will bring. (Heck, I hope I have a next 40 years, period.) This unknowing could be a source of fear or anxiety. But in the hands of those who love me, the mystery becomes captivating—an invitation to a quest, with friends at my side.

Prayer #391: Emblem

Our leaves are emissaries—sailors in

the crow's nest, shouting to our branches what

horizons beckon. Then our branches stretch

our shade past landscapers and power lines

to nurture what grows best within the dark.

Our trunk, with unapologetic girth,

encircles time with rings on top of roots

investigating paths, deliberate

and curious, yet strong enough to bust

concrete when necessary.

                                        We, the tree,

are endless change. For, even burning, we

illuminate; and when we die, we seed.

Our every part cares for—sustains—the whole.

How else would we achieve our growing old?