Yesterday was my birthday. I’m 29, so I’ve only got one more year in which I can identify myself as in my twenties. After this, I’m well on my way to being a dull old fogey. Let the thrill-ride begin.
I’m well past the age at which birthdays are a day-long celebration of myself. So instead of Liz and I having dinner alone together, we had a free meal courtesy of her office Christmas party. I was certain her coworkers would serenade me with “Happy Birthday,” but thankfully, they held back. One of them noticed the horrified look on my face when the party next to us sang it for someone in their group and I thought it was for me. I don’t mind so much when my family does it for me, but I’ve always despised a large group of friends (or in this case, relative strangers) sing “Happy Birthday” to me. What am I supposed to do while they sing? Who or what do I look at? Is it acceptable for me to stare at my plate and wait for it to be over? It’s a little better if there’s a cake with lit candles in front of me; at least then I can watch the flames and think of a wish.
Earlier in the day, at lunch with my colleagues, I started feeling introspective and brought up childhood, comparing my years of teasing and torment at the hands of other students with the experiences one of my work friends had. Then, to make matters worse, for some reason I brought up the girl I dated briefly in high school. I was trying to make some point about how it would have been impossible for me to be attractive to anyone for dating purposes until I learned how to react maturely to the taunts and jabs from the other students. And I was trying to show how I thought this girl was out of my league, until she somehow became interested in me at the same time I was interested in her. (Believe me, those who knew me in high school will attest that I was no one’s prize catch, so for anyone to want to date me, let alone this girl, was quite an achievement for me.) Instead, by sharing this pointless story with my coworkers, I ended up looking foolish. Who talks about their love life at work, especially stories from high school? I was definitely feeling reflective, but I didn’t have to share that much.
The biggest problem with my birthday this time around is my current obsession with age, aging, and the passage of time. I’m having trouble articulating just why I’m always thinking about how old people are, or when events happened, or how different events affect someone at a particular age. But I’m particularly bothered by my own aging process. Frequently, I wish I could pause time, savoring not just a moment, but days and weeks of experiences. I’m really enjoying this particular time in my life: great job, wonderful wife, enough disposable income to enjoy Manhattan’s restaurants and bars, the freedom to work late, stay out late, or stay up late playing computer games if I want. I know that all of this is going to change in the next few years, with kids, a mortgage, and life in the suburbs ahead. I know that I’m not always going to be as physically fit as I am now, that my body will eventually start breaking down no matter how much I exercise or what I eat. I don’t want these things to happen. I want to enjoy this life as long as possible. But I can’t pause time and just live forever in my late twenties. So for me to have a birthday now, and with a milestone one coming in the next year, put me into a most unusual mood yesterday.
I read somewhere recently that a person always needs to have a challenge ahead of them, a project or something to work on, lest they become complacent and stop growing intellectually. I need a new challenge in my life. Maybe that’s my resolution for 2003: to find something with which to challenge myself. Can that be a resolution, or is the challenge itself a resolution?