The final essay collections Nora Ephron published before her death —2006's I Feel Bad About My Neck and 2010's I Remember Nothing — are all about aging. In fact, it could be argued that much of Ephron's work is about this, and about the women (herself included) who straddle a very thin line between having absolutely everything and absolutely nothing figured out. I first read Ephron's writing in my early twenties, when I wasn't so much thinking about how old I was, but about how young I was. I was 21-years-old in 2010, so while I enjoyed Ephron's writing about age, I didn't really feel it on visceral level. But this year all of that changed.
I'm 29 now, so it's probably not surprising that I've been thinking about my age a lot these past few months. Now, don't get me wrong: I acknowledge that I am still, in fact, very young. I am pretty sure Ephron herself would roll her eyes at the depths of my introspection over "aging." She would probably tell me to stop being so serious and go eat a chocolate chip cookie and stare appreciatively at my unwrinkled neck in the mirror while I still have the chance.
Despite the fact that Ephron was 40 years older than I am when she was writing about wearing turtlenecks to hide her neck wrinkles, her aversion to new technology, and her failing memory, re-reading her essays this year has totally changed my mind about what it means to embark on this new chapter of my life.
I'm going to be honest: I was panicked over turning 30. I felt for the first time ever that on my birthday, I would suddenly realize I had wasted 10 years of my life. But reading Ephron really drove home the fact that most of this "fear" stemmed not from anything I've actually done or haven't done but from a youth-obsessed culture that says turning 30 without a completed check-list of accomplishments is basically a death sentence.
In I Remember Nothing, she writes:
"The realization that I may have only a few good years remaining has hit me with real force, and I have done a lot of thinking as a result. I would like to have come up with something profound, but I haven't. I try to figure out what I really want to do every day, I try to say to myself, 'If this is one of the last days of my life, am I doing exactly what I want to be doing?' I aim low. My idea of a perfect day is a frozen custard at Shake Shack and a walk in the park. (Followed by a Lactaid.) My idea of a perfect night is a good play and dinner at Orso. (But no garlic, or I won't be able to sleep.) The other day I found a bakery that bakes my favorite childhood cake, and it was everything I remembered; it made my week. The other night we were coming up the FDR Drive and Manhattan was doing its fabulous magical, twinkling thing, and all I could think was how lucky I've been to spend my adult life in New York City."
Nearing the end of her life (she was diagnosed with leukemia in 2006 and passed away in 2012), Ephron didn't write about how much she regretted not doing in her career, or the size of her apartment, or how much money she had, but about how much she would miss all that she did do, see, and have. In her moving piece "What I'll Miss," she doesn't list out awards, or accolades. Instead, she writes about a walk in the park, waffles, the view out the window, twinkle lights. And all I can think about now is just how lucky I am to turn 30, and to have a decade ahead that will be filled with Christmas trees, reading in bed, dinner with friends, and more time in magical, twinkling Manhattan. These are, I now realize, the best possibilities of all — even if I'll one day have to wear a turtleneck while doing them.