Life is all about milestones. By and large, humans are fixated on celebrating special dates, key events and important moments in their lives; conditioned to memorialize these episodes of being with unyielding diligence. The annual birthday celebration is a fine example of this obsession. In addition to taxes, birthdays are one of a select few annual occurrences each of us will experience with yearly regularity. And, like taxes, many people view their birthday with the same degree of feckless indifference as the annual April 15th appointment with the tax man; a feeling that intensifies for many with age.
I was certainly among this cheerless coterie of birthday scoffers. In fairness, as a young child, August 20th was THE most important date on the calendar for me. It was my unique day and each year marked another step towards my next significant benchmark. My birthday was “the most special day” and one I looked forward to with excitement and anticipation thru my childhood and as I passed those bellwether ages: First, 16, then a quick leap into 18, and finally, the most conspicuous of all, 21. This passage of lines into legal adulthood, however, marked the beginning of the end of my affinity for my birthday; a sad phenomenon shared by many I have found.
In honesty, I didn’t stop celebrating the birthdays that followed my 21st, nor did I scorn the cards, gifts and well wishes or shy away from the occasional party, surprise or otherwise, that came my way each August (I am a birthday cake fanatic after all.) Truth be known, the luster of this event, for me, was worn dull with each passing year and the significance of the happening became more a foreboding reminder of mortality than a celebration of life and an ephemeris collection of accomplishments.
The transition from 29 to 30, was for me, a difficult hurdle to clear. Made more onerous given it was around the same time I heard the sentence that has struck fear in the hearts of men for millennia: “It looks like your hair is thinning.” But, tenacious soul that I am, I survived my 30th birthday – discovering Rogaine along way – and spent the remainder of the next decade avoiding at all costs, any thoughts of turning 40. Along the way, I ditched the Rogaine – my quickly receding hairline proved too much the match for the wonder drugs avouched powers – and embraced the inevitable. Pragmatically, I assuaged my bruised ego telling myself if Mr. Clean could rock the bald pate then so could I.
I will not lie, for most of my 30s, the specter of hitting 40 hung over my head like the Sword of Damocles. To say I was intimidated by the prospects of turning 40 would be the understatement of the century; akin to saying the University of Alabama has a mediocre football program (Roll Tide, Roll!) As a young Army captain, I attended the 40th birthday party of a friend of mine and can vividly recall thinking aghast, “his life is over, he probably can’t even have sex anymore” (this was years before the other wonder drug, Viagra, hit the shelves) so that was my point of reference. But, 40 came for me and somehow I survived the ordeal. Truth be known, I hated the black balloons, the black cake icing and the well intended but woefully tiresome “over the hill jokes” but I prevailed.
My perseverance, however, bought me nothing but the start of an inevitable decade sojourn down the pernicious path to The Big Five Oh!!!!! The point of no return; the beginning of the end (the Bob Dylan classic “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” eerily comes to mind here); 50 is the new 20. Pick your idiom or euphemism, they all suck was my derisive epigram! Like a young George Washington, I cannot tell a lie. I hated the prospect of turning 50 and I feared the finality of crossing the threshold of my life’s journey. That I faced this touchstone event in my life alone, deployed to Afghanistan as a colonel in the US Army, in combat and away from the most important people in my life, exacerbated my alarm and foreboding. For me, it served to portend bad things to come.
This ominous preface established, my passage into my fifth decade of life was far from apocalyptic. In fact, it was an epiphany of understanding, a lightning bolt of awareness. It was as if the Oracle of Delphi reached out, grabbed me by the collar of my Advanced Combat Uniform jacket and delivered the ultimate B-Slap. Alone, smoking a $50 cigar – no, it was not worth the $$$$ but hey, I was alone in a combat zone and people were trying to kill me – under the stars I pledged to myself that 50 was NOT going to be the beginning of the end. It was going to be the start of a new beginning.
Mark Twain once wrote: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” That became my mantra; my raison d’être (ok, I am a rabid Napoleon devotee) and served as the impetus for a dramatic change in my life and ultimately, the inspiration for this blog. I decided that night, under the Afghanistan stars, 8,000 miles away from home and the people I most cherished, that I was going to start my life anew.
I made the commitment to stop focusing on my birthday as a sort of doomsday advent calendar ticking away at my reservoir of remaining years. I vowed to embrace R&B artist, Aaliyah’s, 1994 proclamation, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number.” I pledged to myself a new beginning; a change in mindset and lifestyle that although would not stop the hands of time from turning, would help me develop a quality of life, a freedom of mind, a spirit of being and a drive to endure necessary to enjoy my remaining time on Earth to the fullest.
Though I realize the futility of trying to defeat the unconquerable “Father Time” I believe wholeheartedly it is possible to make the intractable codger take a knee from time to time. My goal with this blog is to share those things I have done, changes I have embraced and decisions I have made that have resulted in me today, feeling more alive and useful at 58 than I ever felt at 30. Because, “Life does not end at the Half Century mark. It actually BEGINS at the Second Fifty.”
I invite you to take this journey with me. My hope is that it will be fun, entertaining and informing. A joy for me to write and a pleasure for you to read.