I am writing this on my birthday.
As of today, I am now officially in my late 30s. Which, as we all know… means absolutely nothing. Sure there are the science things that happen like losing two percent of my muscle mass every year, but that’s been happening for six-years already. I’m talking about what “Late 30s” signifies.
It’s as arbitrary as it was when I was in my mid-30s or late teens. What is fascinating is our obsession with age. I don’t know if it is the same all around the world, or just here in America but it never seems like anybody feels the right age. We brag about being older than others, or younger, not feeling our age, or really feeling our age.
I’m guilty of all of it. A lot of us are.
I guess for some age is context, which I suppose, can be helpful. But thinking about my age and how I should or want to feel at that age, has been largely unhelpful. I have spent decades considering I never feel the age that I am. I always think I will feel different at the next age.
Ultimately, I am just grateful to have any age at all.
This is the first birthday I have had living in a different state. Which, again, is context. I’m not sure what context it actually provides, but it does serve as a marker of sorts. It is my first birthday in some years where I am not working for myself, where I can’t do the usual traditions I love, visit the favorite spots because, well, I am still finding my favorite spots out here.
And while I have always been a fan of birthdays, I haven’t always understood them. For many like myself, birthdays were a super significant marker in youth that became gradually less noted as I aged. Fewer people remember, less of a to-do is made about it. Some social media greetings, a few calls, and texts, maybe a card from somebody over 50.
And so I constantly find myself wondering: What is a birthday for? I remember an episode of the show “Mad About You” where the character played by Paul Reiser repeats the advice an older family member gave him. ‘You take a sip of this, you take a walk, and you figure it out.”
I generally enjoy “taking a sip of this” on my birthday. Often it means just sitting at a bar and thinking, processing, usually without any grand realization. And I think that is OK.
Because again, for most of my life, I have been waiting for grand realizations. And the older I get, the more I realize they aren’t that frequent. I have had them on occasion, but usually, my realizations are like floodwaters that rise ever so slightly over time.
I am always fascinated by being a person. Sometimes I move my body in silly ways just because I think it is amazing or interesting that I even can. I stare at my partner and try to retrace the cosmological steps that led to us meeting. I revisit moments in my life that unbelievably happened, or better yet, didn’t happen.
Our lives are constantly giving us context. Age is a number that helps with context. Because I had a bus driver in summer camp tell me that he was 25 and in his prime, I thought I too should be in my prime at 25. But his statement, like so many from anybody without proper context, is arbitrary.
I am in my late 30s now, which pretty much means absolutely nothing. But it also kind of means everything. I am not the number but the sum of my years’ experiences. I am this simultaneously growing, decaying, evolving thing capable of thought and action and reflection.
And that reflection constantly brings me back to the fact that being a person is an amazing thing. There is so much to process that it is easy not to. But a birthday is a great chance to process. And to reflect. To take a sip of this, take a walk, and figure it out… or not.
Because figuring it out might not be the point. But simply being alive just might be.
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