As I stood in a friend’s kitchen, discussing their impending birthday – their thirtieth – I was struck by the explanation they gave as to how they were approaching this turn of a decade:
“I’m not that bothered about turning 30, but I will miss no longer being in my twenties.”
Their twenties – oh my! It is seven years or so since I was last in my twenties. As decades of an age go, they were effective in moulding my life – but with regards to strong, emotional anchor points, they were more aligned to hedonism than say, clear cut entries in to the big red book of “This is your life”.
I was reminded of the immediacy of life whilst wishing another friend, his own happy birthday just yesterday.
It was clear from the way they signed off their thanks on Facebook that all was not well. It transpires that their Mum had not had the best of times of late. I’ve only met her once, the morning after a heavy night before – on route to Glastonbury; the fleetest of intros. But when someone close to you, suffers through the pain of others, there’s a bit inside of you that feels it as well. Not to the same extent, but the pain of others – felt by friends, is easily passed on. You want to protect your friends, to offer them support – but there’s little you can do. Nature and science are in charge here.
I’m reminded of the passing years as I ready myself for two more birthdays – that of my Mum and Dad over the next month or so. Both are about to hit sixty. Neither looks sixty. Age is no longer something you can pin on a person, simply by analysing the colour of their hair, the clothes they wear – the way they present themselves. How can you say for certain that a fit 59 year old in polo shirt and jeans is a generation older than their son, in similar clothing – if not quite as slender of waist?
I ready myself, as it will be interesting to see how they both approach the ‘big day’. I can’t be sure, but I assume my dad will get up before most of us. He will go to work, come home, walk the dog, have a beer or two, listen to one of three albums, walk the dog again, have dinner – pausing maybe, to open a present or two – then go to bed before most of us; in many ways a normal day. I know mum’s will be different – as we will be in Rome. Three generations – mother, son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter – feasting in the Eternal City; chinking glasses to celebrate the occasion. Even if I know the location, what I’m not sure of is the possible raft of emotions that will be attached to the day.
For me a birthday is a mere acknowledgement; a means by which to differentiate between one tick box and another on a form or questionnaire. But for others, and I think I include my mum in this, being 57 years, 365 days (it is a leap year after all), 23 hours and 59 minutes will feel a whole world different to being 60 years in just over a minutes time.
I don’t get it. Why should there be a mindset that age has any importance to an outlook on life? OK, so there are some points where age stops/starts something – I can no longer enter the English u25 Bowls Championships – but it doesn’t preclude me from playing bowls. And yes, you can’t legally drink to you are 18 – but then if your school days are the best of your life, why do we rush to reach 18; just for that first legal drink; thinking that life only truly begins once we no longer have to show ID to get in to nightclubs? Surely our lives begin – or should that read – change, with every new challenge we choose to accept? University, work, marriage, fatherhood – none of those was defined by a set-in-stone-age. They were defined as much by a mood, born from a circumstance, as any given number.
Don’t let a number rule your life.
Anxiety made me realise that it’s all too easy to put up barriers and look at life with a negative bent. To look on an age, and use that as an excuse for everything you have missed out on, in life. Admittedly there is a sense of reality here – in that a sixty year old will more than likely have more years behind them, than ahead – but where is it written down that life has to struggle to a halt once you reach a pensionable age? Why can’t the best years of your life, be at a time when people would have once assumed that you are now already past it?
I’m three years off forty. I’ve no idea what that means in a sense of what to expect. I can reel off a list of negatives about where I should be, or have in my 41st year – better job, better car, better house – but then I had a ’40 year old’s job’ at 25, and didn’t really care much for it. At the same time I don’t care much for cars and I like my house; even if I had reservations about it at 34.
Irrespective of that, if any of those three really did matter – why should they matter at 40 and not 37? I’m on a fairly defined career progression. It’s a ‘pathway’ as they like to call it at work, that’s not going to all of a sudden turn me in to a Ferrari driving, villa in Portofino owning chief executive in three years time. If I want to do something, to not have a reason to moan at 40 – I could do no worse than look at the pins on my dream pinterest board, and make sure that by an age, any age, I’ve adopted a challenge that might make that happen; me happy?
But then I did that at 31, when I married Amy. I did that at 34 when Lauren was born. Is anything going to really top either of those two challenges? Do I therefore really have an excuse to look at an age, and wonder – what if?
Age doesn’t define you. A number doesn’t determine or alter your life, nor set the challenges that might make that life feel fulfilled. You might take something on once you hit a certain age, but that’s more likely going to happen out of reaction to something you don’t want to happen – death.
Live today, grow today and embrace today – no matter how old you might be tomorrow.