“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” — Mark Twain
Approximately 19 million people do it each day. Some love it, some dread it, but either way, this day comes every year: your birthday.
As a kid, I was young for my grade. Being six when your classmates are already seven is an embarrassment, so in elementary school I tried to hide my age. I was certain older meant better.
Fast forward to my college years, one of our favorite party anthems was Jimmy Buffett’s song “Growing Older But Not Up.” Toasting with keg beer in plastic cups, we felt very mature.
On my 30th birthday, I was delighted. I felt I had finally reached an age of legitimacy, a number that could be taken seriously but that still had room for spontaneous fun. Of course, I didn’t have a lot time for spontaneous fun because I was now the mother of a toddler, pregnant with my second, and juggling work and life. Yet, I was certain that with enough sleep and a good baby sitter, I could still summon my youthful self. At the same time, I was profoundly grateful to feel I was becoming at least a little wiser for my years.
I hated turning 40. No mincing words, I was cranky at the prospect of it. I asked my husband to ignore it completely and told him I would not tolerate any kind of party for the occasion. Unbeknownst to me, one of my best friends conspired with him to plan a surprise visit, showing up on my doorstep on the eve of my birthday. A party was held the next night. Thank goodness my loved ones disregarded my grumpiness. It was a wonderful occasion and softened my entrance into the new decade I had dreaded.
My forties brought some of the crunchier experiences of my life so far— the painful, sharp-edged challenges you wish you could avoid but that seem to be an inevitable part of everyone’s journey, in some form or another, at some point. My dear friend who had surprised me for my 40th birthday was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer and died at 48. So when my 50th approached, all I could think was “Damn, I’m glad to be here!”
“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.” — Victor Hugo
Influenced by the coming milestone, I spent some time sifting through old photographs and letters. I put a little extra effort into getting to my yoga mat and to the chiropractor to work out the kinks and knots of accumulated time that I had ignored for too long. Not coincidentally, I chose the week before my birthday to work on a long promised project for my friend Barbara McAfee to create a video for her toe-tapping, happiness-inducing “Better Birthday Song.” Each small act conspired together to put me in incredibly great spirits as the day approached.
For my actual celebration, I chose a pilgrimage rather than a party. My birthday falls just before Thanksgiving, making the two events feel almost synonymous to me sometimes. This year, I convinced my husband and three kids to spend Thanksgiving in the city where I was born: New York, New York. Returning to the city of my birth, where our oldest child now lives, seemed a fitting way to honor my past, my present and everything in between.
Growing up, I often heard the story of how my sister, dad and grandmother went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 1964 while my mother stayed home with me, the newborn infant. I always felt a little cheated at not having gotten to go. Last week, standing in Greeley Square at 34th Street, just a few blocks from the Empire State Building, I watched the Macy’s Parade with my family, giddy as small child. The next day, I trekked far uptown to visit the address where my parents lived when I was born, my very first home. I cannot adequately describe the sense coming full circle, of downright elation, in these acts of pilgrimage.
“Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” — Stanislaw Jerzy Lec
The other day I had a conversation with a very accomplished woman who is nearing her 80th birthday. Reflecting on her years, she told me that at 50 she was only getting started.
I know I am growing older; I think I am growing up. But one thing is completely certain: I’m just happy to be here for the ride.
Whether it’s your birthday or not, I guarantee that watching The Better Birthday Song video will make you happy. [song written and performed by Barbara McAfee; video by me as my 50th birthday gift to the universe.]