It’s that time again. Tomorrow I have another birthday. To be precise, it will be my 47th anniversary of my birth. That means, in reality, I have already lived 47 years and I begin my 48th year. But never mind, 47 sounds better than 48. And age is just a number, right? So should I even be reflective about dates I check off on a calendar?
I guess so. I can’t pass any of my birthdays without some reflection. Being 47 is not particularly more difficult than being 46, and was a heck of a lot easier than turning 40. On my 40th birthday I hid indoors. Thank God my wife did not give me a 40th birthday party; she must have took my not so veiled threats of bodily harm seriously. Now turning 50 doesn’t seem so terrifying. I can join Alex Trebek and become a member of AARP, although I will be nowhere near retirement age. And I can pretend I will look a lot like Lauren Hutton, who recently passed 60. She graced the cover of a retirement magazine recently. It declared that 60 was the new middle age.
Maybe so. I can use balms like these, but as my age creeps higher the likelihood of my death becomes less abstract. Aging seems to happen at a slow enough pace so that I hardly notice the new lines on my face, or my need for trifocals, or spots of sun damaged skin or the occasional liver spot. Perhaps I flatter myself but I seem to still retain something of a boyish look. I have some gray hair but it blends in well enough with the dirty blond stuff that it’s hard for me to notice except when I am visiting a hair stylist.
In general my health is excellent. I weigh a bit more than I would prefer, but it is not a dangerous weight. And while I haven’t measured by BMI lately I work out with weights a lot, so much of my weight is muscle and not fat. Like most middle-aged people I’ve discovered I can’t eat what I want anymore. My inner child occasionally rebels against being on a perpetual diet but I’ve largely come to terms with it. I learned long ago that life isn’t fair.
I keep waiting for my midlife crisis to end. Every year I think I am just about there and I find out I was a bit premature. But this year it does feel that, if I am not out of the woods, at least I have glimpsed the edge of the forest. For much of my thirties and forties I was driven by an indefinable angst centered on thoughts of aging and death. But also I felt like my life was being directed more by what was expected of me rather than my own will. I often longed for the irresponsibility of youth with, of course, none of its drawbacks. Those fears, at least for the moment, have receded like a low tide. I now understand on both an emotional and a logical level that I am finite. That’s just the way it is. So I must accept this simple truth. This means if I arise each day in good health and with the ability to direct my life then I am blessed. I can’t stop death from happening to me someday, but I may be able to delay it. For the moment at least life is good.
I am king of my little hill again. I’ve staggered through some difficult problems when I was 46, including whether to change jobs (I start a new and more challenging job at the U.S. Geological Survey on February 23rd), my dear mother’s decline and partial rehabilitation and various family issues I can’t get into here. And the moment at least these problems feel sort of managed.
Yet the years go by so quickly. Sometimes when I think about it, it seems impossible that so much time has passed. My high school graduation is nearly thirty years in my past. My marriage is in its 18th year. But in my memory it is like it all happened yesterday. I often can’t reconcile in my mind the reality that so many years have passed. It seems surreal to be 47.
But if I have to be 47, I feel good about being where I am. I pictured myself in my youth at 47 as a much older and weather beaten creature than I actually am. For a couple years, and longer perhaps, I can have the illusion of some youth. I know I see a fundamentally false picture of myself but I don’t care.
So I am trying, and usually succeeding, at smelling life’s roses. I am fortunate in so many ways. I have a job I enjoy and that pays very well. I have the free time I need to putter and indulge my hobbies. Soon I will not have to endure the torture of a soul draining commute to and from D.C. every day.
Life offers no guarantees. It just is, but I can make it as pleasant as possible given its chaotic nature. During my 47th year my parents will likely move to this area for the simplicity of a retirement community and to be closer to my sister and myself. It will be good to see more of them and be able to help them without driving 600 miles. But their move also brings with it some anxiety of being a caregiver.
I will need to be there for them in their last days. I know I will do my part to bridge their passing. No one should leave this world unloved and uncared for, and I will do my best to make sure that is one less burden they have to face at that time of life. I will keep my fingers crossed that problems with my wife and daughter will become less difficult and more manageable in the years ahead. But there are no guarantees. There may be lots of heartache and misery in the years ahead.
All the more reason that, on the cusp of 47, to seize the day.