On Turning Forty and a Few Things I Learned Along the Way

side by side via kimberlyanncoyle.com

I grew up three turns and around the bend from a tiny, local zoo. I wrote a little about it here. It housed your standard petting zoo critters, along with a strange array of everyday animals like raccoons and owls, in cages close to water buffalo enclosures or your scary “big cat”. As a tween, I volunteered at the zoo mucking out cages, feeding mice to the birds of prey, and dodging animals with a cage-crazy look in their eye. I experienced a few near misses with a vulture, a raccoon, and a monkey, which sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but is actually the beginning of a series of stories which no one believes but me.

How I, a lover of books and all things neat and tidy, ended up volunteering to handle dead mice, shovel poop, and dodge crazy animals remains a complete mystery to me. Somehow, I managed to make it through multiple seasons of do-good-ism in spite of a few hairy situations. It turns out I have a fairly high tolerance for things that disgust me. Rather than manure, it was a set of cue cards that did me in. The end of the volunteer season coincided with a special program for community members at the zoo. The staff lined us up, handed us a few cards with random animal facts written on them, and told us to fan out throughout the park to answer visitors questions.

I read through the cards and realized I could answer exactly zero questions posed to me by unsuspecting visitors. I could recite a few facts about the groundhog habitat, but going off script? Impossible. I wanted to know all the answers before I attempted to answer even a few of the questions. I wanted to stuff my pockets with bullet points full of them. I knew nothing but what my experience taught me–the groundhogs hid at the slightest tremor, the llama spit if you looked it in the eye, and the donkey keeled over, as if dead, with no warning.

I felt certain these were not the facts people came for–they came for real answers to honest questions. I grew increasingly uncomfortable as I saw other volunteers and visitors striking up a conversation. I walked from habitat to habitat, cue cards crumpled in my hands, hiding in plain sight.

This week, I will turn forty, and I recognize I no longer have the excuse of youth when it comes to not having the answers to life’s questions. I’m no longer a young woman, I’m just a woman, middle-aged, still afraid of giving the wrong answers, still hiding in plain sight. I thought by now I would know more, I’d have a mental file of cue cards for every relational dilemma. I’d have a pocket full of bullet points on faith and parenting and successful living, whatever that means. I’d have a career or a ministry or an advanced degree from which I might plumb the depths for wisdom.

I have none of these things, but I can offer what forty years of experience has taught me–I can’t distill life down to a few facts on cue cards. There are very few black and white answers. When raccoons attack, they go for the leg first. Love God, love others. Tea tastes better when sipped from bone china. Grace wins. The sun rising over the mountains is hope unfolding in light. We become our parents. Skinny jeans forever or baguettes forever is an either/or dilemma. Children are a heritage from the Lord. Beauty matters.

There are a few other things I could share, but that would require time and cuppa. Would you share a bit of your wisdom gained from experience with me?

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  • KimberlyAmici

    Wisdom I’ve learned along the way… People are not thinking about me near as much as I think they are. Asking questions and listening makes the best conversation.

  • Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    For what it’s worth, Kimberly, the kind of stories you had to tell, would’ve drawn a crowd. Anyone can memorize a cue card, but only a storyteller awake and wide-eyed can help people feel and experience the reality of those animals as you have done here. May you be blessed in the coming year with increasing freedom and joy. May your wrestling bear fruit.

    • Kelly, thank you:) I wish I’d known how to tell stories as a kid. I gathered them up, but never realized they were worthy of sharing.

  • Ruth Setchfield Clow

    You have a real gift, Kimberly. By the way, that zoo has a new feature — Treetop Adventure, complete with obstacle courses high overhead, ziplines, etc. Lower, well within reach of parents’ protective hands, there is an obstacle course for the little ones as well. Something tells me the Coyle family would thoroughly enjoy a visit.

    • I haven’t been back in years, Ruth. Probably time to remedy that situation:)

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