My birthday was last week and I did that thing that kids never understand. I couldn’t remember how old I was. I remember asking my mom her age once and she said, “I don’t know. 45 maybe?” I thought she was putting me on. Who doesn’t know how old they are?! As a kid we’re obsessed with age and our next birthday and what will happen when we’re double digits, or 16, 18 or 21. We imagine ourselves “in our 20’s” or what our life will be like at 30 and in most of those imaginings we’re attractive, hyper successful and totally pulled together. When you’re young even a half a year makes a big difference. Loch is four and a half this week and he’s totally different than he was six months ago, but as you truly get older, not only do you no longer count months you can hardly keep track of years.
So, when someone recently asked me how old I was turning I said, “37. No, 38. Wait, shoot…um…no, I’m not 37 now I don’t think. So, no. I’m 36. So, 37. Yeah, 37.” Honestly, it was a struggle for me to figure it out. I was one step away from doing the math from 1975 and that’s saying something as I’m a big avoider of math.
It’s not that I’m one of those people who hates their birthday or wants to be perpetually 29. I don’t. I love my birthday. I always have. Maybe it’s the Leo in me, but I’ve always loved a day about me, a celebration of my life. I’ve always appreciated the successful completion of another year. Long before I got sick I was a fan of the birthday. I’ve always told people who were grumbling they wished it wasn’t happening or talking about “skipping it this year” that they should be happy. There are so many people who would love (or would have loved) to live another year. The time we get on this planet is so fleeting and being granted another whole year is something to be grateful for, and if you’re also someone who’s blessed enough to be around people you love who want to celebrate with you, you should eat that s*^# up with a spoon.
I realize the “appreciate your birthday” thing might come off a little preachy or high hatted, but it’s not meant to. Yes, I’m in a different position than I was 4 years ago as far as appreciating every year, but this is not a new sentiment for me. Birthdays are an opportunity to slow down for a day and take stock of where you are and where you’d like to be. A day to appreciate your health, your family, your friends, your life. Another year has passed. Are you happy? Could you do something different? Is there a dream you wish you were following? Can you make a goal for next year? Are you healthy? Can you find the gratitude in that? Are you sick? What can you do to help your body take care of itself or better use the time you have left? Look, it’s impossible to be grateful for your life every day. There’s just too much to think about, too many things going on, but on your birthday you get a moment to look around and acknowledge where you are and hopefully find something to be grateful for.
I’m happy to age. I’ll be thrilled when I reach 40, ecstatic if I reach 50 and grateful beyond belief for every other year after that. Let me tell you, if I make it, I’ll be the happiest 80 year old you’ve ever seen. All that being said however, and no matter how pleased I am to get old, aging isn’t for the weak. Getting old is one thing. Looking and feeling old is totally another. I might be infinitely grateful for my life but I am not particularly pleased with my wrinkles, or spider veins, or sagging upper eye skin (what with that?!). I’m not excited to get a waddle and I like being able to see my jaw line. I seriously considered botox this year as a lifetime of talking with my face has built a grand canyon sized trough above my eyebrows that you could drive a truck through by the end of the day. I hate not being able to eat whatever I want without seeing it on my lower half the next day. I loathe the cracking of my knees and the fact that I groan every time I stand up. I watch my parents with their shortening memories and different physical ailments and I see (if I’m lucky) my future. Getting old is tough. The body you relied on, the mind you took for granted, the memory you had, like any other living thing starts to decay.
The question of whether you’d like your mind or your body to go first isn’t a tough one for me. If I could, I’d chose to have my body give out (not any time soon) before my mind. Watching people’s bodies hang on long after their mind has gone is heartbreaking for everyone. I can’t imagine not knowing who I was or recognizing my loved ones. I think it must be perpetually lonely when no one is able to connect with you, and so hard for the loved ones who can see you right in front of them but are unable to break through. I’d rather be alert and cognizant right up to the end. It’s like we should all pick up smoking and high sodium diets somewhere around 85 just to ensure our body doesn’t keep us around after our due date.
Like I said, aging is tough. Tough on the ego. Tough on the wallet (saving is something I need to do more of as I age) Tough on the body. It’s not easy or glamourous but, like most things, it’s dependent on your attitude as to how arduous it really is. A positive attitude, one of gratitude and wisdom, can make the unpleasant aspects seem so much less. I went to the movies the other day with a friend I’ve had since we were 10 and at the end of the credits we were the last people in the theatre. Leaving just before us however were five older ladies (say mid 70’s) all busy chatting it up. As they walked out we watched them buzzing about the movie, their plans for the next day, who was going to some event. They walked slowly and carefully but they still seemed spry and light and were clearly having fun. I turned to my friend and said, “You think that’s us in 40 years?” and she nodded. Staying engaged with the world, with your friends, with your life, is a key ingredient to finding the joy in aging. You don’t have to be sick to appreciate each year, you just have to be conscious. Know that it’s all a gift and we should take advantage of it while we still can.
Happy Birthday to you whenever it is. May the next year be your best yet!