294 days left until the Zombie Apocalypse…
A childhood friend turned thirty a couple days ago. She’s not the first of us–we are all friends on Facebook and I know I’ve wished a Happy Birthday to at least a couple of other people. However, none of them advertised their ages. There were no jokes about being thirty left on their pages by other people. There were no self-reflections on age. Nothing. So I guess it just slipped my mind.
Her page was different though. For some reason, every other comment was about that magic number. It was kind of bizarre actually:
“30???? enjoy your youth my friend…”
“Welcome to your 30’s!!!”
Even mine was about her age. I posted it without even thinking about it until afterwards. It’s interesting how birthdays can come and go most of the time without us even batting an eye. We might go out for dinner or a round of drinks with friends–we know we are older, but we don’t feel any different. Then those milestones come along and bam! Suddenly we are just older…more mature…incalcuably changed by another X on the calendar?
It doesn’t make any sense. Why should one day every five or ten years make so much of a difference to the rest of the world? I’ve never felt any different on those days. People always ask you, “How do you feel now that you’re ___ age?” I can never figure out how to respond–not even when I ask myself the same question in my head. I mean, what does it even mean to feel 16…or 21…or 30 for that matter? Is there something wrong with me because I can’t tell how much a single landmark supposedly changes me?
The only explanation that I can think of is that as a society, we need to have those landmark numbers because we are too busy in the day to day mundane aspects of our lives to notice how much we change otherwise. We have to have those occasions to look back and say, “Wow. Yeah I was really naive five years ago!” or “I’ve really grown up since then.” More importantly, we need those days so that other people will also notice how much we have changed and grown over time. That sounds crazy–especially since I’m the type to preach about how you’ll never be able to change unless you do it for yourself. And that’s absolutely, 100% true. But….
Well. The fact of the matter is that we still need other people to notice. We have to change for ourselves, but we need other people to see that we have done it and to acknowledge how far we’ve come. How else can we actually even be sure that we have changed in the first place? The human brain is complex enough to fool us into thinking that we’ve changed when we haven’t. It is also quite capable of tricking us into thinking that we haven’t changed when we have. We are our own worst critics and our best cheerleaders. So how can we have a true and accurate measure of our progress? It can only even begin to exist through the eyes of other people. Granted, that creates its own sort of paradox too. For those “other people” are always going to have the same clouded vision when it come to seeing and quantifying change. Maybe then, the honest truth is that we can never truly know if we’ve changed and how much. We can only guess at it, mark it with another X on that big calendar in our heads that counts down the days we have left until the end. We can only commemorate it in that steady passage of X’s as sudden bursts of clarity when we realize that yes, another decade has come and gone without our noticing it….that we have in fact let another 3,653 days pass by with little to show for it. That’s 315,569,260 seconds spent inhaling our own stagnation when we should have been breathing new life into our lives.
And isn’t that just the truth? We spend so much time obsessing about how much we age–and coming up with ways to mask it through surgery and makeup–that we forget the purpose of aging. We forget that we are supposed to change–because how else can you grow as a person? How is that we can acknowledge that wine gets better with age, but we have such a hard time imagining that we could do the same?
It’s funny since we never thought that way as kids. Children always think of how much they want to grow up so that they’ll be bigger and be able to do more things. They look forward to each birthday because they know that it is going to bring them another step towards their goal, another year closer to “growing up”. Then all of a sudden, that just stops one day. Suddenly there are no more rewards to reach. You find yourself an adult who can drive, vote, and drink. After 21, the landmarks stop being about what you can do and start focusing on what you can’t do anymore. Then what else is left to look forward to? I think that’s the moment when people stop thinking of it as “growing better” in favor of the much more negative idea of “growing older”.
We still acknowledge those milestones–we just do it for a different reason. We stop celebrating that someone has had a birthday, and start cynically celebrating that we aren’t the only ones who have had one. This is especially true for the lucky handful who have birthdays late in the year. Where they once were jealous of not reaching those milestones with everyone else, they can now boast about how they get to hang on to the tattered shreds of their youth for that much longer. It’s really, really weird.
More importantly, it’s really, really sad. Why do we force ourselves to see time as the enemy when it is only with the help of time that we even get a chance to discover who we are meant to be? Time isn’t the enemy…wasting time is…
It’s ridiculous too. If we would just open our eyes and start living as if each moment matters, then we wouldn’t feel like we haven’t had enough of them once our time is up. Growing older wouldn’t be such a burden if we could stop thinking of it in terms of all of the things we haven’t done, and start seeing it as all of the things that we have done.
So that’s going to be my goal for the rest of the year. I’ll be thirty in August too and I don’t want that to be a bad thing. I want it to be a positive experience–a reward in and of itself as a reflection of who I have become with the help of time. I want it to be a party. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said, “I was wrong to grow older. Pity. I was so happy as a child”. He had it mostly correct. We are “wrong to grow older”…but that doesn’t mean we can’t grow. We just have to focus on “growing better”.
And when we lose sight of that, don’t forget about the coming apocalypse. When we are running for our lives, how do you want to remember your last birthday? For me, it’s an easy choice…and let’s just say that 30 will be a damn good age to go out with a bang!
The Butcher of the Bard