Yeah, I feel like this sometimes...
Copyright © 2017
by Ralph F. Couey
A few days from today, the anniversary date of my arrival in this world will arrive. This has always provoked a time of deep thought about where I am, where I've been, and most importantly, where I'm going. I think that's a common thing among adults, especially as those years begin to pile up.
I've discovered that there are three phases of attitude towards birthdays:
These phases are tied to whatever age we find ourselves. The Celebration phase is strictly for the young. At that point, we are happy that for at least one day, it's all about us. We get gifts, a sugary treat (or several), and a measure of indulgence from others. We get excited and happy, and it's usually a day to be remembered, at least until the next one rolls around.
I see this phase lasting up until about the early 30's. By then, we begin to notice the subtle signs of age creeping up. A slight loss of energy. Maybe we don't have the stamina we used to have. Getting out of bed in the mornings becomes a bit more of a chore. And where we used to burn the midnight oil with relative impunity, now it's much harder to stay up late, and especially wake up the next morning. It's no coincidence that this is when most of us are neck deep in raising children and pursuing our careers. As a result, we have very little time that really belongs to us alone. Also, we begin to sense the passage of time. We can see the years behind us, and are beginning to realize that the years yet to come will not be the carefree devil-may-care ones that we might have wanted them to be.
This is when the Denial phase begins to ooze into our thinking. We know that we are getting older, and we don't want to get older. As we move into our 40's this becomes especially acute. We begin to review our life, and seeing only missed opportunities, or chances that we didn't take that we should have. Our conversations with ourselves more and more start with the words "If only..." Into our mid and late 40's is when our little birds begin to flee the nest, and we discover that the thing which consumed almost every minute of 20 or 25 years of life is suddenly gone. Those times of fun and chaos are gone, and we are left with a silent, empty house, and a phone that now never rings often enough. If we have done our jobs as parents, then we have bequeathed to the world fully-formed adults, capable of standing on their own two feet, and making their own way through life without subsidy from us or the government. But in that success we also mourn the idea that suddenly we aren't needed anymore.
Once we get into our 50's and 60's, we recognize that time is going to march forward regardless of how vigorously we try to hold it back. We also know that every day, our bodies and minds are going to slide a little bit. And in the not-too-distant future will be that day when we will be confined by senility and senescence to a home, a chair, and eventually, a bed. The thought of that makes us a bit sad, so while we accept the signposts of those birthdays, now we realize more than ever how important it is to celebrate, not only a birthday, but every day. Because now we know for certain that these days have numbers; and once they pass, there's no way to get them back.
For me, I am fully into the acceptance phase. This will be number 62, in terms of birthdays, and the recent years have been more and more contemplative in nature. I've stopped regretting my past, because it is a useless exercise to mourn something that is by its nature unchangeable. If I make a wrong turn on the freeway, I just have to go to the next exit and go back the way I came. Life doesn't work like that. There's no replay button, or U-turn opportunity. What has happened, has happened, and whatever the consequences, I am either stuck or blessed with them.
How much longer will I go? Hard to say. I have a long list of medical infirmities, but on the plus side, I'm exercising more than I ever have in my life. I have dropped over 30 pounds since retiring, and in terms of health, am better off than I have been in decades. I now have the time to pursue the joy of writing, something that was hard to find time to do before. This is important because doing things you love to do adds years to a life. My father died just before age 80. My grandfather was killed while trying to put a locomotive back on the rails. My great-grandfather lived to age 80-ish, so it may be that my road has yet a ways to run. Or, I could be smacked by a truck next Wednesday. Either way, I know that each day is a gift, one to be unwrapped and savored to its fullest. To celebrate the rising sun is, I think, a fine way to go about living.
In that respect, every day is now a day of celebration. I will work the opportunities that the day provides, and for once, I will let tomorrow take care of itself.