My 42nd Birthday Manifesto (or Where Did I Put My Towel?)

Considering the fact that I originally typed the title of this post as my 40th Birthday… you may gather that I am having issues with growing up. You’d be right, though you’d need to qualify the word “issues”.

After the age of 21 I think we all start to look at aging differently. As kids, we always look towards that next birthday: “I’m four-and-a-half!”, “I wish I was old enough to go on THAT ride!”; you get the idea. I’m currently somewhere in the Pacific between Skagway, Alaska and Prince Rupert, BC. My kids are lamenting the fact that, if we were to enroll them in organized activities they would be socializing with kids up to three years younger than them just because they are on the advanced end of the age groups that the cruise ship has deemed appropriate (this coming from a company who serves chocolate buffets at midnight and has a never-ending supply of tater tots and mac-and-cheese for adults and kids alike, allows smoking in the staterooms, and sells internet access for rates that would put a land-based company out-of-business. The mental well-being of its customers’ children (and through the transitive property of parent sanity, their customers) when it comes to on-board activities is quite low on their to-do list.)

When it comes to those precious adolescent years – the ones where it feels as though your life was scripted by H.G. Wells, Judy Blume, and Hugh Heffner in some strange, After School Special, time-and-space-bending collaborative effort; you yearn for the age you can drive a car, stay out later, try-out for this sport or organization, graduate and move out of the house…

Then we move onto those first years of freedom that we spend trying to discover who we are. Yes, I’m speaking of your 40s. (Ok, maybe not.) I mean those first years of adulthood (which in my case was 40 so I’m told occasionally.) You hit 18 and you can vote (though most of us in the States waste that privilege so we can then spend our lives complaining about the results of others’ decisions); we are considered adults in the eyes of the government and law, with the exception of being able to consume alcohol (legally). We start to get odd looks from people when you tell them you still live at home in your parent’s basement. Many of us still lament that we’re not 21 and have hit that last hurdle to adulthood.

Then, that is it.

Unless you’re a Kennedy, Roosevelt, Adams, Clinton, or Bush you don’t really care about any other birthday. You don’t look towards 35 with that “now-I-can-run-for-the-Presidency” gleam in your eyes. You start to see each birthday as just another move down the “Select Age Range” drop-down box on any online form you spend the remainder of your life completing.

Then you start running away from your age. “Oh GAWD I’M 40!” you hear women (and men alike) scream. We shove black balloons in the faces of those turning 50. There is an entire consumer culture built around pushing kids to adulthood and then tearing them down once they hit their twenties for being unqualified to support society; for being lazy, self-centered, and arrogant. Then we start the guilt trip of growing old once you hit your thirties – pushing death for humor and profit.

So of course, I do have issues with growing old. I look back at all those times I had an opportunity to do something magnificent when I was ignorant of the opportunity. I look back at all those times I made the wrong decision when the right one was staring me in the face. I look back on all those times I acted irresponsible whether I was caught or not. I look back on how I’ve treated those in my past in a manner that was inexcusable. I see those as issues to work on and learn from.

At the same time however, I look back on all those times I did do the right thing; I made the right decision whether I knew it at the time or not: being wise versus getting lucky. I look to those times when I treated people fairly and the effects that it had. Those are issues to learn from as well.

My issues with growing older have more to do with what I can do to treat people better, make a better impact on those around me, and learn from my mistakes and the circumstances of my upbringing than anything else. My only true concerns at my age now are ensuring that I am able to provide comfort for my family, stability in their future, and peace in their daily life. I worry about growing old and dying of course: I dread the thought of infirmity and not being self-sufficient. I’ve been responsible for my own actions and future since I was in my teens and the thought of losing that freedom is one of those paralyzing thoughts I wake to some nights. I fear not being able to provide for my family or being a financial or mental burden on them – perhaps that is why I drive myself so hard in my professional life. I see these issues escalating each year – you don’t think of these things when you’re 22 or even 32.

Yes, I’m another year older, than I was at this time last year. But those lucky ones of us still kicking around are all another day older than we were just before we went to bed last night. Time runs from no one, but for now I have the time to make the changes I need to in order to bring my issues under control – if even just a little bit.

“We are immortal, but for a limited time.”