I’m still 40. It’s going pretty well so far. I filed my taxes multiple days before they were due. My mother-in-law entrusted me with making charoset for 35 people, “but don’t make too much.” I found practically all the Cuisinart attachments — and I’m still 10 years younger than Julia Childs was when she started filming The French Chef. I have only been outdone by Wordle once (OUTDO).
It’s hard not to think about 40 years in the context of Exodus, especially as I am surrounded by so many wayward apple peelings. Had I been born a few thousand years earlier and 6,000 miles away, this would be a big year. Practically my whole life spent wandering in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. This would be a new beginning, even if I would claim to totally remember the deliverance and triumph at the Red Sea, just like I do with the ‘84 Tigers.
But when we got there, would I have the stomach for milk and honey? Would I have the patience to let the bread rise after decades as a macho matzoh man? Or would I be nostalgic for simpler times? More idols, fewer commandments, etc.
It’s tempting to feel altogether settled and domesticated when you work from your kitchen table. I had a standing desk for a while until I remembered chairs. I keep my wireless electronics and all their stubborn cords in the wine fridge under the counter. The only downside is that I had to find a new place for my waffle maker.
There are moments in the day when the only sounds I hear are Rushmore snores and the steady rotations of three dual drum rotary rock tumblers in the basement — and that’s only because the fourth was too noisy. You could almost forget that we have been living though a pandemic that has claimed over 6 million lives globally.
Exactly two years ago, one short video managed to capture the zeitgeist of restructuring our lives in hopes of adapting to a virus faster than it could infect us:
When it occurred to me that there were 40 weeks left in my 40th year, I thought about the numerology of this moment and had a realization — this is, in fact, my 41st year. Still, I thought it might be the perfect opportunity to get around to 40 bits of adulting that I had managed to put off for the last three to 30 years. For example, getting an unwanted but otherwise discreet tattoo removed if I had ever been cool enough to get one.
I started working on the list and then started working on the order of the things on the list. This one rose to the top:
1. Refrain from making long to-do lists and then undertaking few, if any of the tasks.
So 40 is probably too many notes, but I would be remiss if I didn’t take advantage of this relative calm to overcome the tyranny of unremarkable things that never feel especially urgent, but have not gone away on their own.
First up, BRCA. In 2008, I emailed my mom that I had gotten in a minor car accident in Ann Arbor, to which she replied:
"Aunt Miriam is Bracha [sic] 2 positive, which means that the cancer comes from an inherited genetic deformity most common in Ashkenazi Jews. It also means that she will have a double mastectomy and oophorectomy (ovary removal) instead of a lumpectomy. My father gave us a heritage of intelligence, humor, and scruples, but not health … You don't make a claim for repairs on the other car. That is between him and his insurance company. He may be able to recover his deductible, depending on his policy."
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes. Mutations to the genes inhibit their effectiveness leading to a 50% probability that women will get breast cancer and a 30% probability that they will get ovarian cancer.
My mom went to Beaumont to see if she had the same mutation as Aunt Miriam. Utah-based Myriad Genetics held the patents on BRCA1 and BRCA2 until 2013, when the Supreme Court unanimously rejected their intellectual property claims.
Once my mom tested positive, like her sister, she had a double oophorectomy and double mastectomy.
There is a 50% chance that I have a BRCA gene mutation. If I do, it could increase my risk for melanoma, pancreatic, prostate and breast cancers. I know this because my mom has reminded me at regular intervals for the past twelve years.
So, my first 40 Something is to find out whether I inherited her BRCA mutations along with the detached earlobes and sturdy peasant physique. Lucky for me, February 1 -7 was Jewish Genetic Screening Awareness Week. (Also Burn Awareness Week and International Networking Week.)
I accepted the invitation to “give a spit” and sent away for a $36 JScreen kit (retail $199). A few weeks after I mailed my saliva back to Emory University — after a few weeks of the kit sitting on my counter — I received the results:
We just received an update on your CancerGEN sample. The lab attempted to process your specimen, but they were unable to produce data that meets internal quality standards. Therefore, they’re requesting a new sample. First and foremost, I want to assure you that this does not indicate anything unusual about your results.
This happens in a small percentage of our patients who collect saliva samples, and we don’t always know exactly why it happens. The lab will mail you another test kit soon, at no extra cost, so you can collect a new sample.
I received the new kit and now recall the upshot of working from my kitchen table: I never go 30 minutes without eating or drinking, as required to (I would hope) get a conclusive result on my second attempt.
But I do give a spit. I care about my health and, more importantly, knowing whether my kids will inherit more than my genetic predisposition to cilantro. So I’m going to seize on the generally unappetizing nature of Passover, summon the self-discipline to go a half hour without food or drink and then the wherewithal to put a postage-paid package in the mailbox.