Long-time readers know that I don’t especially enjoy my birthdays. I used to, when I was younger. Like everyone else, I suppose, because hey, who doesn’t like cake and ice cream and presents when they’re a kid, right? Unfortunately, though, somewhere along the line, birthdays stopped seeming like achievements unlocked and started feeling like grim ticks of an ebony clock that can’t be rewound. I’ve dreaded them since at least my mid-30s. Maybe earlier.
It isn’t aging per se that bothers me, as people often assume when I start brooding about this. You won’t find me standing in the bathroom mirror, counting wrinkles and gray hairs. (On the contrary, I’d be delighted to have gray, silver, or even white hair, so long as I had a full head of it. I really hate being bald.) No, what gets to me isn’t the accumulation of years so much as what I’ve done — or more accurately, not done — with them.
I’ve blogged about this before, of course, approaching the problem from different angles, trying to find the clearest way of articulating a feeling that’s probably very common, but isn’t so easy to express. At least, it’s not so easy for me. The sad truth is that my adult life sat on the launch pad for a lot longer than it should have, and even now I have days when it feels like I still haven’t cleared the tower. And the real bitch of it is that I’ve got nobody to blame for it but myself. While my friends were establishing themselves in the world and charging toward the landmarks that our society uses to gauge success, I… dithered. Wracked with indecision, insecurity, and probably a walloping good case of undiagnosed depression, I told myself I had plenty of time. I realized too late that that wasn’t true… that not only had I reached middle age without doing the ordinary things — marriage, babies, a mortgage — I hadn’t gotten around to any of the other things I wanted to do either. And despite what we tell ourselves these days about 50 being the new 30, opportunities not taken oftentimes really are lost for good.
(It probably doesn’t help that my birthday falls right on the cusp of the changing seasons, when the kids are headed back to school and the quality of the air and the sunlight is changing as Indian summer fades into autumn. It’s hard to avoid that sense of time running out when the Halloween decorations are starting to appear even though you’re still wearing shorts and driving with the top down in the afternoons.)
But you know, something interesting happened with my birthday last year. I didn’t blog about it at the time — no surprise, considering how rarely I manage to blog about anything substantive any more — but my 45th birthday was actually kind of… pleasant. I took the day off from work — the whole week, actually — and I got some excellent presents and I had a nice steak dinner with my parents and Anne. I had 170 people publicly wish me “happy birthday” on my Facebook timeline, and I also received a number of personal messages as well, all of which were very much appreciated. I even got a couple of old-fashioned cards in the mail.
More importantly, though, I (mostly) managed to avoid the smothering depression that usually afflicts me around this time of the year. As I reflected on my latest voyage around the sun, I had to admit — difficult as it was! — that I’d had a pretty good year. I’d maintained the healthier weight and lifestyle I was forced into back in 2012; I’d observed my nine-year anniversary at a job I originally figured wouldn’t last six months; I’d attended no less than four big nerd conventions right here in my own hometown, meeting a lot of childhood heroes in the process; and I’d even managed to lay to rest a couple of ghosts that had haunted my memories for far too long. (You’ll forgive me if I don’t elaborate on that last point; even with my exhibitionist tendencies, there are a few things I prefer to keep inside my own head.) So yeah, not too bad a year, nothing to feel especially depressed about.
And now this birthday coming up, Number 46, looks to be even better, because I intend to celebrate it in The World’s End pub in Edinburgh, Scotland. Because birthdays are always like the end of the world. Get it?
Yes, it’s true, this whole entry has (mostly) been a really roundabout way of announcing that Anne and I are setting off on an adventure. We’ve talked about going to Scotland for years, she inspired by her all-time favorites novels, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, and me because I’ve been a fan of the cult movie Highlander and its spin-off television series since I was in college. And of course, one of the things I’ve always most wanted to do with my life is travel. See the world, explore new places (new to me, at least), shake off the dust of this small town… all that George Bailey stuff. Not so very long ago, I was feeling a genuine sense of despair because I was increasingly certain that it just wasn’t going to happen, that my only two previous international trips (to England and Germany) were the only ones I was ever going to get. I know that’s more than a lot of people manage, but the thought that I’d already filled my dance card without realizing it, that my dream of being a world traveler was just over, was unbearable to me. At some point in the past year, though, Anne and I looked at each other and said, “We need to either quit talking about going to Scotland, or actually go to Scotland.” And so here we are actually going. And for a change, I’m not facing the approach of my birthday with regret and sadness. Because I’m doing one of those things I’ve long wanted to do. I’m crossing an item off the bucket list. And good lord, it is a good feeling…