“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet
So I turned 40, everybody! Last Saturday, in fact. I’ve been going back and forth on this in my head for the last little while. The emotions range from panic to melancholy to indifference. In some ways, I should be just celebrating the fact that I’ve made it this far. It’s true that it is a “big birthday”, but isn’t every birthday a big one? Just recognizing that you’ve gone through another cycle of spring summer fall and winter and are still here doing your thing I guess is something to celebrate. Why is 40 any better than turning 39, or 41? IT’S BECAUSE IT’S A ROUND NUMBER, I guess, and we like to celebrate things like this, or if not celebrate, then at least mark them in some way.
I wasn’t even sure if I was going to blog about this, because my first couple of attempts didn’t seem to strike the appropriate tone. The first attempt was all full of false bravado: “Look at me and my life at this moment and all the wonderful things life has to offer….” I mean, gag, right? And the second attempt sounding disturbingly like a suicide note. “By the time you read this, I will have passed over…….into my forties, guys.” It was a bit too Lenten for how I was actually feeling.
I’ve been kind of dodging my feelings about turning 40 by focusing on another birthday recently: my daughter’s 5th. Another milestone, when you think of it. In many ways, turning 5 is even a bigger deal than turning 40. 5 sort of marks the end of the baby/toddler/preschooler phase and is seen as the beginning of being “school age”. It’s the end of our daughter being at home all the time and being directly influenced by me, my wife, our parents and our close friends. After this, teachers and classmates will spend more time with our daughter than we will, and I have a feeling that once school starts in the fall, it’s going to feel like a treadmill and it won’t feel very long indeed, where we are getting ready to go to our daughter’s high school graduation and we will sit back and look at each other and say, “Really?”
And yet, last week, our daughter leapt out of bed on her birthday and shouted, “I’m five! I’m five!” and flew around the house blissfully unaware that she was being really loud. She was so excited that she could barely eat her breakfast.
I can tell you that I did not rise with the same level of unbridled joy last Saturday. There were no shouts of “I’m 40”, and I certainly don’t have any wise words for all you youngins out there. Certainly nothing quite as lovely and eloquent as Oliver Sacks did last summer when he wrote this piece about turning 80. But he has had an extra 40 years to come up with something great, so cut me some slack, people!
I am happy to report that I actually did have a lovely birthday. A relaxed brunch of crepes (bananas and peanut butter in a crepe is really good! Maybe that’s my bit of wisdom upon turning 40?) started things off, then I even managed a small nap in the afternoon. I’m still not sure how I pulled that off, but I think my wife cut me some slack on account of it being my birthday and everything. Then for supper we went out a favourite restaurant, followed up by going to a play starring my brother-in-law and his girlfriend. (I say girlfriend, but they’ve been together for like 15 years. They aren’t married so I can’t really say wife but I can’t quite bring myself to say partner. So I don’t know. Girlfriend doesn’t seem strong enough, “common-law wife” sounds seedy, so I don’t know.) My apologies for this diversion. I DO tend on ramble on here, don’t I? I address the issue of “the filter” a little later, and maybe turning 40 is as good a time as any to turn that damn filter on. We’ll see how that goes.
I do think that turning 40 is a psychological milestone as much as it is a physical one, if not more. I still kind of look like a dude in his 30’s I think. (or maybe I’ve been a guy in his 30’s that kind of looks like he’s in his 40’s, I don’t know). I certainly don’t feel any different physically, but I didn’t really expect to. I mean I’ve sort of always felt the same way all along: some days with more energy and optimism, other days with a bit of dark despair behind my eyes and I expect this to continue for the duration. But what’s going on inside my head? That’s the question, isn’t it? The question that we’ve all be wondering about for four decades. The secret loves, ambitions, fears, doubts, joys that we all carry. What about them? Do they get tempered in our 40’s? Do we negotiate a certain happiness at the expense of our dreams? Is the sound of a man blowing out 40 candles on his cake actually the true sound of settling?
How does someone in his 40’s act, or is supposed to act? Can I still make goofy jokes? When does it become unseemly? Do I need to filter what I say and think a bit more? Probably, right? I mean, I should be doing that anyway. Do I need to start to wear sweater vests? How about considering a comb-over as an option? I’ll still wear Birkenstocks, but maybe should I start to wear brown dress socks with them? I’m already taking Metamucil on a daily basis, so the jokes on YOU, 40, when it comes to my dietary fibre intake. And what about my musical tastes? I’m getting more and more worried that I’m just going to stop caring about new bands and artists. I’m going to just freeze at whatever I like now and slowly slip into irrelevancy. I think I told this story about visiting my aunt and uncle’s a few years ago, but it bears repeating. My wife and I dropped in on my aunt and uncle, who were in their 80s at the time. It happened to be right around supper, and they kindly invited us to stay for burgers, which we did. As we ate, I heard a noise coming from the family room. The TV was left on, and as I went through to use the bathroom, I noticed that it was on PBS and it was a rerun of “The Lawrence Welk Show”. We must have been over there Sunday night. A horrible thought crossed my mind that my Uncle and Aunt maybe didn’t realize that this was a rerun and that they were watching it not out of any irony, but because they genuinely liked that kind of music and show and that maybe, just maybe, they thought it was happening all live. I had a sudden flash-forward of me sticking on my “U2 ZOO TV Live from Sydney 1993” DVD forty years from now and some dumb nephew of mine shows up right at supper time and forms the same opinion of me as I did of my uncle and aunt.
But maybe I worry too much. People like what they like, and if cheezy 1970’s variety shows is your thing, then where’s the harm? In fact, I think I’d be far more disturbed if my uncle and aunt started talking knowledgeably about the Wu Tang Clan or Public Enemy.
I’ve probably already slipped into irrelevancy without even knowing it. I learn about new TV shows and movies from friends and online sources, but I can’t keep up with everything. Working in a public library DOES help, though. I’m constantly getting asked for the newest books, authors, movies, music and I can’t help but know of them, if not actually read, watch, or listen to them.
I guess life should be a continual journey of discovery and experience. If I’m lucky enough to make it to an advanced age, I hope I am able to love the things I love, but be open to new and creative things as well. Keeping the balance at any age.
Maybe the words of the Oyster Band in their song “Granite Years” sums it up best:
“Say that I was foolish, Say that I was blind. Never say that I got left behind.”
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have a nap, and STAY OFF MY LAWN.