Oh Birthday, whyfor art thou

I used to not care a whit about birthdays. They were just another day, except that there were presents — and I like presents — and new permissions which were denied in years past were now granted me. I get to drive, I get to drink, I get to go into a bar, I get to get drafted, taxed, … and the list changes from year to year. Even though the concept of a birthday didn’t touch me deep down inside, they certainly touched me on the outside.

Those were the years when the clock ticked up.

“Oh” birthdays only recently began to have meaning when I realized that I couldn’t read the streets signs from a distance until I was nearly right up on them, which made the graceful, premeditated turns of which I was so proud harder to achieve. No more 5-second indicators that I was going to turn: now they were indicators that I am turning. Staying lean and solid was no longer a fantastic benefit of being young and effortlessly engaging in young people stuff. Lifting weights became less about vanity and more about keeping the joints from hurting; and what simply was, now had to be maintained for maintenance’s sake. And 4-oh was an achievement that merited the first, really big “big” birthday party.

Of course I saw and felt most of the clunking noises and minor system and functional failures along the way, but I didn’t really make a connection with ‘oh’ birthdays until 3 days before 4-oh. Passing 40 wasn’t completely unlike reaching the 50,000-mile mark on the odometer, where suddenly the warranty runs out and, coincidently, parts start breaking left and right. But it seemed hardly more than a convenient tick on an a arbitrary scale for rolling up the tally and making a deal of being older than 30 — if that even happened. But now, at 5-oh, we start a whole new chapter in the instruction manual, which calls for new types of regular checkups having to do with prostates and colons mostly.

Advertisements that give ailments scary legitimacy by acronymizing names like Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD?!?, one exclaims in a concern that rivals that of contracting bird flu or mad cow disease) now are stored away for future reference. “Acting your age” always had a derisive and judgmental ring to it. But now it mostly translates to fewer Kenneth Cole options. And I can say “recently” and mean “within the past decade.”

But I ask myself: is that scale really arbitrary? Is “50 the new middle age”? In some cultures, people live into their hundreds! That could be a time-zone (or a twilight zone?) thing. But for most humans, I’m assuming there is a middle age, adjusted by a cultural and environmental algorithm.

At some point, that same clock that ticked up is now ticking down, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the median age of the largest current demographic. The force of their will generated by huge numbers still cannot change the numbers on that clock, which appears to meter the mileage. If 50 is the new “middle age,” that’s only true if you live to be 100, right? While we may live longer, I think that mid-life is really the “half-life” when comes to body-operational shelf-life (life experiences notwithstanding). It is, to me, the point at which physical existence crests. When I was young, I was “old” for my age; now I’m just the opposite. At what point did that happen? So while we can socially say 50 is the new middle age, 40-something would still appear to be the certain âge. (Or, was that 30-something and I’m hypocritically sliding the scale myself!?)

What part of my thinking should this affect; what does all this musing matter? I’m dwelling on the cup now…what part of it is half full or half empty? While physical realities require adjustments in lifestyle and attention to maintenance, I am sooo happy to be who I am, have the friends I have, the partner that I have, and have a life configured to suit the majority of my fancies. I can be rationally idealistic; “boyish” and mature at the same time; in “good shape for [my] age”. I am doing different things and things differently, some of it by choice, other by necessity. The dream world of youth has resolved to new insights, tastes, affordances. Life will be lived in more savoring ways, not gulped down with the indiscriminate gusto of youth.

Am I as young as I feel? Yes and no, relative to a combination of maintenance, activity, and fascination with the world. I expect that I will have at least 2 or 3 more ‘oh’ birthdays before expiration date on this model. And more than that to look forward to, I can now feel birthdays in a way that I could not before. Feel and enjoy what I took for granted.


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