In Other Words
There is, perhaps, nothing so steady, predictable, and at times frightening in life as the continuity of the calendar. No matter what is happening in your life or the world, tomorrow will bring a new day. And every year, it will bring with it another birthday.
Around this time every year, without fail, I celebrate a birthday. A worthy cause for celebration, birthdays are an important ritual. It is a yearly acknowledgment to yourself and the people in your life that this day is a good one, a day when the unique person that is you entered the world.
Growing up, birthdays were joyous occasions filled with balloons and bright colors, chaotic present openings and copious amounts of cake and ice cream. Somewhere just past the first flush of adulthood, birthdays begin to be less of something to celebrate and more of something to endure. Older still, they become something that many start to dread.
Every year that passes I begin to understand this sentiment a little more. As a child, birthdays are a sign that you are growing up, gaining experience and independence. But once you pass that imaginary hump, birthdays instead slip over into the fine distinction of marking the basic fact that your earthly body is aging.
Certainly, this is still something to celebrate. Without doubt, I would prefer to grow older, rather than the alternative, and I’m sure most would agree with me.
As I grow older, I also understand that aging is simply a matter of perspective. I am fully aware that I am in the prime of my life and am nothing but thrilled to be the age that I am. I can also clearly remember what it was like to view a 30-plus-year-old as someone who was simply old.
The summer I was 20 I shared an office space with a 30-year-old. He frequently made references to the need for “us young people to stick together.” This always garnered a behind-the-back eye roll and snicker amongst those in our office who actually were “young.” At 30, this poor guy was anything but young.
Now that I have come up to and rocketed past his age, I have far more sympathy for what he was feeling. Now when I come across college-aged kids, I am embarrassed to admit that I fully believe that we are still contemporaries, when, clearly, they wouldn’t agree with me. When I see a younger person now, their youth simply mirrors what I still see when I imagine myself.
Every year that I age, I have more appreciation for people older than myself. As they say, growing older is not for the faint of heart. It is difficult to accept that you are no longer young, that you may be too old to be in a certain place or wear certain clothes. That your body may not always perform like you think it should. I’m beginning to understand why older people shy away from a camera or a mirror. What you see in the mirror rarely corresponds with how you see yourself. It’s easier now to see that life is not a circle, but instead an uphill battle with gravity.
Somehow, though it happens to everyone, when you are young you never actually think that getting older will happen to you. Youth seems to stretch before you. Now, as I’m on the cusp of, well, something older than “young,” I understand that in fact it’s the opposite. You are old far longer than you are young.
With each passing birthday I find that I’m happy with this phenomenon. Youth carries with it so many uncertainties that fall away with the simple march of time, replaced by confidence and a contentment with aging that is hard to imagine when you are young. As for the relentless dependability of the calendar, I suppose it is just another lesson to learn as you grow up and grow older. Rituals and predictability are, after all, comforting.