Since hitting double digits, I have rarely been extremely excited about celebrating my own birthday.
The fact that my 48th just passed did not help improve that outlook, pushing my reflections into the realm of confronting my rapid approach to 50 years of age.
I mean 50! That is a half a century. I’m just not sure I’m ready to cope with that yet. I’ve never been good at the birthdays ending with a zero. At 20, I was mad because I couldn’t use the generic excuse of being a stupid teenager but I wasn’t yet old enough to drink. It was like being in limbo for a single year.
At 30, I had been up on the job all night at Smoky Mountain Knife Works. When I got home to the surprise party my wife had planned, I greeted everyone, sat down in my chair, and immediately dozed off like a proper old man should.
Forty wasn’t as big a deal. I realized that being 40 didn’t feel nearly as bad as I had imagined at, say, 12 years old. Still, the gray in the beard had started to accumulate and hints of aches and pains began to show themselves, stealthily creeping up on me as if I were an unsuspecting 8-point buck in the crosshairs of my hairdresser’s rifle. Yes, she hunts and I’m kind of afraid of her, but that has nothing to do with my age which, unlike the age of the most recent 8-pointer in her sights, continues to climb as I write.
I appreciate the positives to aging. For example, I have lived longer than my father or paternal grandfather, not merely an accomplishment but a true privilege. Also, thanks to my stepdaughter, I have lived to see a first grandchild, which was not accomplished by my father either. I reflect on that and experience true sadness. I’ve got some great kids and my Pop was a cool dude. They would have really enjoyed each other.
Pop was nuts in all the ways that kids love best. In the 70’s, long before thesis papers were being written on the zombie apocalypse, Pop introduced me to the original Night of the Living Dead and Day of the Dead by George Romero, only recently respected as the cult classic foundations of every single zombie blockbuster made since. Thus in the 80’s, when we would visit the East Towne Mall, the vibrant predecessor of today’s ghost town misnomer, Knoxville Center Mall, my Pop would firmly grab one of us kids by the hand so we couldn’t escape and commence the zombie walk straight through the middle of the crowds. The other two kids would dart away like fish in a pond being pelted with rocks, and Mom quickly chose a strategy of just continuing to walk as if nothing unusual was happening.
It was a hysterical scene for the two kids who managed to escape, augmented by the mortification of the one who did not. And that was just one of his many antics to embarrass the dickens out of us. Seeing him waiting to pick us up in the school line was nothing short of a nightmare, shuffling toward the car to see if he might be dressed in only overalls and yell out the window in his best hillbilly dialect . . . or worse.
Don’t worry, Pop. I have had four extra years so far to carry your torch. I do a pretty decent job of embarrassing the family, but will soon have to dig deeper for the courage to perform the zombie walk. Based on how 48- year-old knees feel, time may be running out.
Still, as much I try to convince myself of the blessings of so rapidly approaching 50, the negative counterpoints seem ever reliable.
I’m as wise as I have ever been in my life, but unfortunately also more forgetful than ever in my life. I make a better living than I have before in my life, but I also pay more taxes than ever and have a kid starting college in the fall. That’s a double whammy! I have finally attained a Green Belt in karate, but I also have a herniated disk, an arthritic knee, and bifocals.
In the balance of things, though, I have concluded it is not just a flippant statement: Getting old really does stink, but it sure beats the alternative. I think about so many things I will likely get to see that my dad and others have missed. In a few short months, my firstborn will graduate high school and start college. The following year, my youngest will begin her freshman year of high school, and the year after that, my son will graduate high school.
I cling to these coming events with tight fists, holding on for dear life as literally as one figuratively can, as I realize what so many have before me. The passing of age reveals that the true treasures of life really are what we claim they are at a younger age but don’t quite believe. The events I witness with my eyes and ears in the next decade or three (please, God, let it be four if I can keep my wits about me) will undoubtedly make every crunchy knee, aching spinal disk, and gray hair worthwhile. I plan to savor each and every one.
© Michael L. Collins