Around my neck against my heart I wear a wooden cross, and sometimes I remember what freedom cost. the choir. “Circle Slide.” Circle Slide. 1990.
I rarely, if ever, get self-indulgent when I write here, so please bear with me as today’s post deviates from the norm.
This Wednesday marks a major landmark birthday in my life. I’m already well past the age of when conventional wisdom tells me I should be trusted (30), and on Wednesday I enter into a new decade: I hit the dreaded big 4-0. It’s the point in life where many people remark “it’s all downhill from here on.” It’s the age where complaining about getting too old for some things, complaining about your back or neck, or yelling at those darn kids to get off the yard can be justified on a daily basis.
I’m not sure when it was exactly, but some time back, I stopped caring about my birthday. I still note it on the calendar with a bit of a growl escaping my lips and a glare in the mirror at the ever-increasing lines around my eyes, but at some point in the past, I stopped caring about celebrating. I’m not proud of this fact, but I need to admit it to myself that I am a bit of a birthday Grinch. I simply stopped looking forward to being surrounded by my friends and family. Maybe it was around the time I moved to Miami and was physically removed by distance from a number of people I had grown to love having in my daily life. Maybe it was after I turned 30 and realized getting toys as gifts (well, as the PRIMARY gifts I would receive) was less appropriate than it was something I should ask for/expect. Maybe it was when I started to notice the candle-to-cake-top ratio was growing smaller every year.
But more likely, it’s because this time of year gives me emotional ADD that gets kicked up to eleven. Yes, the beauty of the bleakness and change of seasons does make my heart sing at times. However, the unfortunate reality is that this time of year also marks way too many personal anniversaries in addition to the one surrounding my birth.
From the beginning of November until the turn of the calendar year, my mind constantly goes to the numerous moments of impact that have left their mark on my heart, all of which have occurred within this small window of weeks throughout my life: wedding anniversaries; endings of marriages; births; deaths; final exams; celebrations a-plenty; nights spent drenched in tears; dreams becoming reality; friends who have moved away; and friends I have lost through words which should have been left unspoken.
I’m like the poster child for seasonal affective disorder. So much has affected me during this season, I constantly feel emotionally out of order.
And then there’s the fact that I amaze and confuse a number of people when they learn my biological age. “No WAY,” they exclaim. Apparently it’s because I don’t look or act like any self-respecting 40-year-old (!) would. And absolutely no person my age would just decide to chuck his job. Well, maybe because of a mid-life-crisis, but not for any other conceivable reason. According to the opinions of many of my friends and colleagues, right now I should be in a stable, mid-to-upper-level career point as a college administrator. I should have the nice little letters “Ph.D.” following my name. I should have this kind of car, this kind of house, these kinds of clothes, and for the love of God, please shave. I should act my age.
I wish that I could say I’m not affected by the thoughts and words of people as they sit and judge me/offer advice on how I need to be according to the dictates of society. I wish that I could not think, “Maybe they’re right.” I wish that I could live my life as free of being hindered by what others think as in my heart I want to be.
But I'm not. I am affected by these words. Not held captive by them or to them, but they do affect me on some levels.
And part of me is glad for that, because it means that I’m not as emotionally cut off as I think I am at times.
Maybe it would be better if instead of looking at it as growing another year older, I should just celebrate by having people say “Happy New Year” instead of “Happy Birthday.” After all, right around this time of year for almost 15 years running, something happens to make it seem like either through choice or circumstance, there’s a new beginning about to take place in my life. Heart and soul shattering endings that dovetail into potential (and sometimes forced) fresh starts.
Maybe I should start making my new-year resolutions on my birthday as a way of giving myself something, and also as something to look forward to for the coming year. A measure of something to hold myself to that’s not dictated by what polite society says a man of my certain age should look like, act like, or be like.
A gift of freedom.
I think I’ll start by giving myself permission to be free of certain memories.
And maybe – just maybe – I’ll start to feel like having a party to celebrate it.
And if so, you’re invited.