Today marks my seventy-and-a-halfth birthday.
I’ve started counting my birthdays like little kids do, but for the opposite reason.
LITTLE KID: “I’m not three. I’m three-and-a-half!”
ME: “I’m not seventy-one. I’m seventy-and-a-half!”
My half-birthday harkened me back to my actual birthday, which is traditionally a milestone birthday. Biblically, that’s all they give you – “Three score and ten.” But, you know, they got the sun-revolving-around-the-earth thing wrong. Hopefully, they are “off” on this too.
Let me not gild the issue here. Getting older brings you closer to dead. Of course, that’s the “Down” side. There is an “‘Up’ side of old” as well. I know that because there is an “Up” side to everything. As of this writing, however, I have not yet discovered what the “‘Up’ side of old” is. I will keep you posted when I find out.
Suffice it to say, I was apprehensive about my seventieth birthday. To be honest, I’ve been apprehensive about each passing birthday since I was thirty-five. But back then I have the sense I was just practicing. After sixty, I believe it got real.
For some time, I have recognized an identifiable trajectory concerning my birthday. About a month before it, I am predictably out of sorts. Then, when the day actually arrives, I feel like “King For A Day.”
Take my seventieth, for example.
During my preparatory “Funk Month”, I made it clear that no extraordinary measures be taken to celebrate my birthday. I had one dominating wish for marking the occasion:
By which I did not mean not burdening others with lavish preparations for my birthday.
I meant “No effort” by me.
If my family truly loved me, I explained, they would not require me to be sociable on my birthday. Fortunately, they respected my wishes. Sparing me having to respond to a lot of lame “Getting old” jokes that are in fact true, and “Seventy’s not old” reassurances that are not.
I had plans for my birthday. Barring a weekend earlier backyard “lunch-and-cake” party with the immediate family, they were all of a solitary nature.
Before my birthday, my objective was to retain my septennial milestone “in-house.” I had no interest in “spreading the word”. The day would come; the day would go. Then, it would be somebody else’s birthday.
My actual birthday arrives.
I begin my private celebration exactly as I imagined it, picking up coffee at a cozy nearby breakfast place called Cora’s, and taking a solo meditative walk along the beach. I walk into Cora’s, and I hear myself say:
“A small coffee to go, please. Today’s my birthday.”
Cora’s immediately comes to life with my proclamation. Random customers shout congratulations. A counterman offers a complimentary pastry.
I could not believe it. Here I was, wishing to proceed unceremoniously into my eighth decade, and suddenly, I’m announcing to strangers “It’s my birthday!”
And not just that once. It happened again at lunch. I have selected Café Gratitude, a place that deserves an entire blog post of its own. I am seated at a table, the waitress comes over with water, and I tell her it’s my birthday. (For which I later receive a scoop of artificial ice cream with a candle.)
My behavior was astonishing to me. When had I mutated from “Birthday Reticent” to “Birthday Blabbermouth”?
As it turned out, this was not the most surprising revelation of my birthday.
Two other items on my assiduously prepared itinerary involved enjoying the extremely rare (for me) treats of a chocolate milkshake and a quality cigar.
The revelation occurred when I realized that, when it came time to pull the trigger, I unexpectedly wanted neither of those things.
Instead of the chocolate milkshake, I contentedly ordered an “I Am Blissful” blueberry antioxidant smoothie (Café Gratitude labels every item on their menu “I Am Something.”) And I had no interest in the cigar.
It was weird. I had thought carefully about how I wanted to celebrate my birthday, and that plan of personal pampering included a chocolate milkshake and a cigar. At the “Moment of Truth”, however, it became “I Am Blissful” and no cigar.
The realization occurred to me that, every once in a while, you have to go into your brain and perform some assiduous housecleaning, jettisoning the things you used to treasure – and mistakenly believe you still do – and replacing them with your current interests and desires.
A chocolate milkshake is still a treat. But at some point, although my brain had not registered the conversion, “I Am Blissful” became a better treat. And quality cigars, which had embellished many a milestone in my past, I kept thinking I still wanted one long after determining that I didn’t.
I was apparently evolving. Without my knowledge or awareness. It was something I realized on my seventieth birthday.
It appears that I need to “update my files”, stop wanting – out of habit – things I used to want but that have at some point lost their allure.
This insight could fall under the category “The Wisdom of Age.”
Or if it’s wrong, under “There’s no fool like an old fool.”
I hope it’s the former. I could use some ammunition for “The ‘Up’ side of old.”