Message to the People: Defying the odds, even at 40

I turned 40 a few weeks ago. If I listened to the small-minded folk who think even turning 30 is a death-knell, I’d go jump off a tall building somewhere. As for me, I’m not tired, worried or done. I’m just getting started!
My 40th birthday fell on Friday, July 13th. How appropriate. I’ve spent much of my life defying the odds — might as well start working on my fifth decade continuing that trend. Even though my birthday fell on an “unlucky” day, I was lucky enough to wake up in my grandmother’s home. Yep, my “old girl” is still with me. She and my uncle opened the bedroom door and smiled, repeating a note my mother had taped to the door while I slept — “Good Morning and Happy Birthday.” It was all pretty cool.

Strangely, I didn’t feel different. I looked in the mirror and still looked the same. My body didn’t fall apart on me during the night, and my mind still seemed to function as usual. Hmm. I didn’t get any of the other stuff either. “This is it?” I thought. “No unveiling of the secrets of the universe? No existential revelations? No extra clarity? I’ve been f’ing robbed!”

Actually, I hadn’t. I really didn’t expect any of those things. In fact, the people close to me made a much bigger deal about the “Big 4-0” than I did. I still feel (and look) pretty good. Clean living, I guess. I don’t have to worry about my status in the dance clubs being lowered — I let that childish, desperate scene go a while back. I also don’t regret any huge, irreparable life missteps and, therefore, do not feel compelled to engage in a mad dash to make up ground. Thankfully, I’m pretty happy with my life. I did, however, reflect on one of my favorite quotes by Theodore Roosevelt:    

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

I have been blessed in many ways. God made me strong; She did not make me a “timid soul.” She made me a “doer of deeds,” a good friend and a formidable adversary when necessary. I have been “in the arena” for most of my adult life and plan to remain there. I have known both victory and defeat — and am the better for experiencing them. I grew up a dreamer and remain one. I am thankful for a loving (if sometimes dysfunctional) family, a woman who loves me (even though I haven’t always understood or appreciated it), a cadre of fiercely loyal friends, a career I cherish, great colleagues and mentors, and a life’s vocation that allows me to touch countless hearts and minds.

I have lived my life deliberately and bravely — trying my best to rise above petty concerns, common obsessions and shallow goals. I have set my bars high and am thankful that I have been able to hurdle many of them. At 40, I am still that gun-slinging “Bastard out of Georgia” — a little older, wiser and armed to the teeth. Yep, I feel good. I might be getting older, but I’m getting a hell of a lot better in the process. Old, tired at 40? Not me, baby! Hell, holla at me when I’m 80. Maybe I’ll slow down by then.

Remember, until next time — have no fear, stay strong, stand on truth, do justice and do not leave the people in the hands of fools.  

Dr. Ricky L. Jones is associate professor and chair of the Department of Pan-African Studies at U of L. His LEO column appears in the last issue of each month. Contact him at [email protected]