On Turning 36 and the Mundane

Kaylie Hanson
4 min readOct 26, 2023

Today is my 36th birthday. It’s not a milestone, really. Nothing really happens on your 36th birthday, except a reminder that you’re officially closer to 40.

Your thirties, in a way, are about accepting life’s persistent mundanity. You get up, make coffee, read the news, get through a day at work, handle dinner, watch a little TV, go to bed. The days pass, each resembling the next, and then a colleague will say that she can’t believe it’s already October, and where did the time go?

The mundane accumulates to fill the minutes, the hours, the weeks, the years. When I was 30 years old, I became a widow. My husband, Jeff, was killed when a semi-truck struck him in the bike lane in Washington, DC. He was riding to his weekend yoga class. Later, we were supposed to go see friends. We had planned to spend the day like we did most Saturdays, honestly. Nothing special. The following Saturday I spent the day writing a list of things I needed to do to close out a life (review an obituary, locate a place for the memorial, decide where to bury his ashes).

Jeff was killed at age 36. Today, I’m the same age.

As I’ve anticipated this day, I’ve thought about how, for Jeff, this was all he got. He was an athletic, healthy, fun-loving person who had no “reason” to die at the age I’m turning today. But he did. Thirty-six years was it.

I remember in the years before Jeff died, I would think: is this it? Should I be doing bigger things at work? Did I settle down too young? Am I taking enough risks, or playing it too safe? Why isn’t my life more exciting? I actively resented the mundane.

In the five years since Jeff died, I have been through a lot. I developed anxiety. I experienced post-traumatic stress in the aftermath of Jeff’s accident. I survived an abusive relationship with a guy from back home who would exhibit stalking behaviors when he couldn’t accept the breakup. And I said goodbye to friends who passed away, while family members suffered through illness or life-altering injury.

In examining the fact that my closest person was taken too early, I’ve also noticed myself desperately trying to pack more into my life. I can’t begin to count how many trips I’ve taken, projects I’ve signed up for, and hours I’ve worked overtime thinking that, well, this could be it. My career has been in advocacy and politics, where the end goal is rarely achievable in one lifetime (full access to reproductive health care for every American! A fair wage for every working adult!). So the ability to work endlessly is very real, and, gosh, if Jeff died at age 36 and I might die at age 36 then what’s another two hours of work if it means it brings us closer to full equality for women, right? Right?

This sometimes-manic approach to how I spend my time is rooted in my fear of losing the mundane. Because now, after loss, the mundane is what makes my world spin. It’s what I appreciate the most, when it used to be what I resented and questioned. Lunch with a friend and really listening to them talk about their kid isn’t mundane, it’s special. Walking my dog isn’t a chore, it’s a gift. Drinking coffee with my fiancé in bed while we read the news every morning is easily the best part of my day, and getting deep into a conversation with him over dinner is how I hope I can spend the rest of my life. I wish it hadn’t taken a tragedy to learn the lesson.

And the truth is, I’m terrified of losing the mundane again. I panic when I see an unknown number on my phone with an area code in the city where my fiancé is, petrified it’s a hospital. I monitor the news in the countries where my brother is traveling, just in case he’s put in harm’s way.

I know the anxiety that I’ll experience loss again won’t go away. But I also know that the mundane is worth celebrating. So tonight, I’m ordering my favorite cocktail at dinner with my parents, my best friend, and her husband. I’ll sit next to my fiancé and hold his hand under the table while he tells punny jokes that make my eyes roll. I’m going to order mudpie for dessert with a candle in it. And the next day, we’ll wake up, drink coffee in bed while reading the news, and do the mundane all over again.

A surprise addition to this morning’s coffee :)

--

--

Kaylie Hanson

Fighter. Feminist. Resilient. Forever team @NARAL , @ChrisMurphyCT , @SenBlumenthal , @TheDemocrats