My birthday is coming up again. For many years, this has been a bittersweet moment in my life. First, I will regale you with childhood trauma, midlife drama, and finish it off with catharsis the likes of which you have never seen.
As I was growing up, my birthday weekend landed almost exclusively on the Jackson County Fair week. In my tiny mountain town, there were two events that were more important than Christmas: The Never Summer Rodeo (third weekend in June) and the Jackson County Fair. The latter was always the priority for kids in an agricultural community. It’s the weekend of the year that all the 4-H projects came to fruition; anything from bunnies to sheep, cattle to goats, horses, arts and crafts, and in my case, model rockets, were all subject to judgement by committee. Ribbons were given, animals were sold, and generally it was cold, windy, and/or rainy. The heat of summer was gone and the chill of what was to come for the next several months was already beginning to show itself.
As a kid, I have two birthday parties. One when I turned five, and the other when I turned ten. Any other years we attempted to get all of my friends together were foiled by my friends and classmates being busy with Fair. The alternative was usually to have cake cooked at high-altitude, which was always a dry mess you had to choke down, and ice cream. Which isn’t something a kid really wanted to eat when they were afflicted with chronic strep-throat infections for most of their childhood. To this day, I really don’t like either. Was it the ennui of celebrating a birthday on my own? Was the impending doom of Winter as it descended on the high desert landscape I called home? Or a myriad of other reasons?
I haven’t had many parties since. I’m not really into them now to be honest.
After my adolescence, birthdays were the source of some depression. Even when I was relatively happy, I would just get gloomy. The days before was usually spent by myself, pondering life, lamenting all the things I didn’t accomplish for the last year, and just not having any of it. I’ve had some good birthday celebrations, so I’m not sure why I picked this time to get all moody. Nowadays, in my early 40s, I laugh at overly emotional me, probably wearing all black, wandering around in the rain, sad that he was getting older. You know, because 20 is decrepitude.
So far, I’m loving my 40s. These have been some of the best years of my life. Yes, some things have been rough. Figuring out my life, who I am, what I want, and how to be kinder and fairer to those who touch my life. Sometimes I make a royal mess out of everything. There are days it is just hard to be still. Then there are days when I see that I might have fewer days ahead of me than I have left behind. I don’t always feel like I’ve made the most of my time in this world. But, I’m hoping I am finally learning to appreciate the moment I am in now. To let go of the past events that sometimes haunt me or the future that I apparently have lots of expectations of, yet somehow falls short of the mark.
But that might be many of us.
At soon to be 43, I haven’t worked a job that has beaten me to a pulp like my dad and his father before him. I’m in the best physical shape I have been in my life. Yes, I’m looking at you 20 year old mopey-me. You, buddy, need to work on your cardio and it wouldn’t kill you to go to the gym once in a while.
My life is rich, even if I am not. I continue to try new things and and open to new experiences. 20 year old me had more money than I do too, but 20 year old me doesn’t know the pride you feel when you are teaching your son how to ride a two-wheeler. He hasn’t seen his daughter cooking fried green tomatoes for her grandma. He couldn’t get along with his dad long enough to sit through a tv show, much less spend a day working on his car with the man. Maybe there is some hope for me yet. Maybe the years temper us and maturity is what is left when the flux is burned away.
My ankles might not work like they used to. But I can touch my toes. I am stronger. I am more patient. And I hope I can continue to improve all that is broken, deficient, or weak about me. Because 20 year old me needed lots of improvement, and I hope I’m finally doing that man justice.
I used to make lists of things that I have accomplished. New experiences. Ways that are better now than they were a year ago. Today, I decided to not become maudlin about getting older. For many years, my birthday has been a season of reflection, pondering, and most of all depression. If there is one thing I can leave behind me in year 42, it would be that. Maybe if I leave something behind, I’ll have more room inside to carry more.
This year, year 43, I plan to get out more, write, be creative, laugh more, worry less, drink less caffeine, climb more mountains, and soak in more hot springs. And the only count I intend to make of it is how heavy or light my heart is by the end of it.
Here’s to inching towards a better year!