40 Things I Want for My 40th Birthday


When signing off from Facetime with me on Saturday, my sister laughed through a half-hearted apology. "Sorry I won't be able to talk to you on your 40th birthday! But, I'll be sure to think of you from the beach," she said sarcastically. I laughed too, imagining her toasting me on Instagram with a giant margarita in her hand.

"Seriously, though, Mary. How horrible of a sister would I be if I posted pics of myself enjoying myself in Jamaica while you're back in Ohio on your 40th? I would never..."

I surprised her and said, "Don't be silly! It wouldn't be horrible at all! In fact it would be the best gift a person could give me--to show me a picture of him or her having fun doing something I love or they love!" She rolled her eyes at me in the all-too-familiar-only-you sort of look.  (I've seen this and the accompanying you're-lying-to-yourself-and-me look a thousand times before. No words are necessary.) She might as well have said, "Be real. We both know you'll be green with envy!"

I snapped back, "No, I am serious! Really! Take a picture and send it to me!"

She said, "OK, we'll see about that!" before she clicked into a freeze-frame mid-eye-roll.

After I signed off with her, I switched over to my iTunes and set out for a long walk. It was a gorgeous day. Crocuses were blooming in yards all over my Cincinnati neighborhood. The sun was intense. The air smelled new and sweet. As John Burroughs wrote of Spring in his poem "A March Glee": "Her foot is on the stair." It was right in front of me, just about to knock, and waiting for me to open the door.

And it was glorious.

Everywhere I looked there was beauty, light, color, and life. As drivers and walkers passed by me, they waved and flashed cheery smiles. It took me a while to figure out why everyone I saw seemed to be smiling and waving at me: I WAS SMILING like a mad woman at them. I put my hands up to my face and felt my flushed cheeks and the deep dimples that had formed, and tried to cover my silly grin. But, nothing could stop it.

I was happy, deliriously happy. In fact, I couldn't remember a time I felt so happy, so clear-minded, so energetic, so purposeful. In a week, I thought, I was going to be 40.

F-O-R-T-Y, I spelled it.

How could that be? And why the hell was I happy about it!  I had been dreading the impending day for what seemed like years. In fact, I can safely say I have been dreading this day since I turned 29 (the first time and the last 10 times, too).

But, something has changed in me in the past year. Instead of dread and angst, I now feel like owning every single year. It took a lot to get here after all. It took a lot of hard work, a lot of joyful times, a lot of painful times, a lot persistence, and a lot of shifting perspective. And it's been incredible. In fact, I am lucky to even be here at all.

To say I have dodged a few bullets in my day would be an understatement. My Dad's nickname for me, "Crash," came to me honestly. (There's not enough blog space here for the comprehensive list.) Car crashes notwithstanding, I have a few pages of EKG flat lines and a working pacemaker to remind me that I am lucky to be here too. I also have looked down the black abyss of depression, dangled my foot over the edge, and was yanked back from it a time or two (three, four, or five) as well. Long story short: I am here. Still. I have two feet on the ground. I have a blue sky above. I have two kids that love me and need me and I love them like crazy. I have a husband that somehow still loves me despite all I put him through daily. And I have a giant family that endures my left-leaning politics, my book-bullying, and thrice-annual personal crises. In short: I have so much to be grateful for. So much to be happy about. So much to celebrate. I would not and could not trade one year of this wonderful life. There is nothing more I could want.

No present.

No book.

No card.

No trip.


I have all that I need. And then some.

So back to my walk: Somewhere on it, it occurred to me that my sister was right. The perfect way to celebrate my 40th would be for her to have fun in Jamaica! And then I thought, how great would it be if everyone I knew, took a picture of themselves doing something they love, wearing something they love, visiting something they love, reading something they love, or spending time with someone they love? Then I got to thinking, what if I could think of 40 ways to celebrate life? To spread kindness? Love? Hope? Light? Happiness? What if on my 40th birthday, I could see everyone I love doing what they love? I got even more excited as I walked. As soon as I got home, I started scribbling ideas down.

So I have a request: All I want for my 40th birthday is for everyone I know to have a wonderful, amazing, absolutely beautiful day filled with goodness. And if you're up to it: Show me--all week! My birthday is on March 19th. So between now and then, post a picture of yourself on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever, and tell me/show me what you're doing, tag me, email me, whatever. Be sure to use the hashtags #maryis40 #choosethegood #spreadthelove And I'll be sure to follow it!

40 Things I Want for My 40th Birthday

So here are 40 ideas/suggestions, though feel free to surprise me!

  1. Read something.
  2. Dance.
  3. Sing.
  4. Take a walk in the sunshine (or the rain).
  5. Have a glass of wine (or two).
  6. Have a piece of cake (pie, cookies, and ice cream will do too).
  7. Eat a healthy, colorful meal.
  8. Go for a run.
  9. Take a hike.
  10. Read a book to a baby.
  11. Snuggle a baby.
  12. Snuggle a cat.
  13. Snuggle a dog. (Or all of the above at the same time!)
  14. Pick some flowers
  15. Cook a great meal.
  16. Help someone.
  17. Watch a movie.
  18. Light a candle.
  19. Draw a picture.
  20. Color something.
  21. Write a thank you letter to an old teacher.
  22. Write a random note to a coworker or friend and compliment them.
  23. Surprise someone.
  24. Read a poem.
  25. Write a haiku.
  26. Blow bubbles.
  27. Pamper yourself.
  28. Lip synch.
  29. Play with your kids.
  30. Have lunch with friends.
  31. Buy coffee for a stranger.
  32. Donate books, clothes, or food to the needy.
  33. Watch a basketball game.
  34. Make a flower arrangement.
  35. Organize something.
  36. Go shopping.
  37. Take in a show at the theater.
  38. Go to a concert.
  39. Say a prayer.
  40. Tell someone "I love You" or "You Matter"

Really. That's "all" I want.

Looking forward to seeing you loving life!