Well I look in the mirror
What the hell happened to me?
Whatever I had has gone away
I’m not that young kid that I used to be
So I push the hair back out of my face
That’s okay, I knew this would happen
But I was hopin’ not today
Hey baby, I’m not running anymore
But I’m on my way
— John Mellencamp, from “I’m Not Running Anymore”
Once more around the sun…
Birthdays, their significance are much different now than as a kid. Back then, each one was connected with specific events, usually by grade level. Third grade year felt differently than fourth grade, and so on. Vignettes of memories float by of my mom and dad and brother, a good friend one year, blowing out the candles on the cake in the old kitchen, the endless gray overcast winter days of Cincinnati, days off from school running together during Christmas vacation. Don’t seem to recall many of the presents, which seemed to be mostly clothes. Having a birthday so close to Christmas usually didn’t lend itself to getting any more toys.
The big birthdays were much anticipated, like 16 and getting my drivers license, 18 because then it was “official” I was an adult (being able to vote was cool too), and then of course, the big 21, which ironically, was a pleasant, low-keyed evening with a couple of college buddies. Back then, the drinking age was 18 and so that wasn’t a big deal. As an uncle said to me, “So you’re 21. Now you can get drunk and thrown in jail in every state in the union.” A reminder of responsibility or a hint to vague memories of stories of my uncle bailing out his brothers when they were young men in trouble with the law?
The other birthdays seem to be wisps of memories just under the surface of recall. The nice round numbers like 25, 30, 35, sound like they should be memorable but are not. There was much anxiety about my 40th birthday, but the actual day too came and went without much fanfare.
And now that I am on the uphill side of 50, I wonder. My beard is nearly all gray now. (So much for my college nickname, Red Beard.) Not much hair to push back out of my face as before. Having been blessed with good eye sight, it looks like I finally need to see the eye doctor for some glasses. I knew this would happen, but I was hoping not this year.
Isn’t that how it seems to go? We hope and look forward to some things. And for others, we know that they will happen—it’s inevitable—but we want to postpone them. Why do we resist some moments? In the end, doesn’t this seem to be the real reason underlying our rationalizations for much of our behavior, that is, avoiding something? We even avoid the hint of asking the question, let alone the answers, to what are we avoiding and why?
If I make it to fifty, I think I’m going to try to make that birthday more memorable. Maybe a big party, or something like skydiving or some other bucket list item. Hell, why wait till then. What about today?
Wait. Hold on there a moment. I have been waxing nostalgia here. Memories come and go. They are more ephemeral than experiences. Memories are good but they are not now, not reality. Chasing down experiences is not exactly what I want. I’m not running anymore, but I want to be on my way. (Or should I say Your way.) Remembering what I did is not the goal, living is; living each moment for what it is worth, to its fullest. All is gift.
Memorable or not, some of those birthdays were lived well—I engaged the day. Some were not—I coasted through them, just getting by. The same can be said of every day.
Lord, help me to live the words from another Mellencamp song,
Your life is now
In this undiscovered moment
As Captain Picard on Star Trek: The Next Generation used to say to the helmsman, “Engage.” Which goes with what Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to us disguised as our life.”