So I’m marking another elliptical spin around the sun, another year in the rearview mirror. This isn’t a milestone year so it’ll be a quiet affair: dinner, maybe a few drinks, a quick jaunt to Sri Lanka and back. When we’re young every birthday is a major event. Turning one is worthy of celebration, even if most of us don’t remember it, at two we’ve doubled our age, at three we’ve tripled it. At four, five, and six we really start to explore the world on our own, make friends, try on and discard personas. Ten marks the beginning of the double digits but the next big step isn’t until thirteen, considered in many cultures to be the age of adulthood, although its onset usually starts earlier. At sixteen, in the US, you can drive a car, at eighteen you can vote, and at twenty-one you can legally drink. Then the way stations only come once every ten years: thirty is when you say you’ve got the whole adulting thing figured out, even though you haven’t and never will, and at forty you’re “over the hill”. The Eternal Footman who holds your coat and snickers stands a little closer. Fifty is the half-century mark and from there, well, the years roll on at the same rate but they seem to go by faster.
Thirty years ago on another birthday I wrote this poem:
I’d like to sleep late,
Warm in my cocoon, stretch,
Before throwing the sheet
Off like a lost ship’s hatch
And like a single sailor stand
Looking out over miles of empty sea
Without a single stretch of land
To disrupt any possibility.
The reality’s more mundane:
Alarm clock, dark fumbling, shower.
All through it my brain
Mutters that I have work in an hour.
A birthday passed is like death:
A miracle without fanfare.
One moment you’re drawing breath,
The next you only once were.
It’s morbid but the truth is I really do think of birthdays as something to celebrate. The older I get the more I come back around to every one being a milestone, another year that I feel lucky just to be here.