Milestone birthdays tend to end in zero.
I had one Thursday, and like that first trip to the gym after too long a layoff, I’m feeling a little sore today.
Twice a year like clockwork, I contemplate my life: New Year’s and my birthday. However, the extended period of being homebound during the COVID-19 pandemic has given me a head start on my birthday reflection, so this year has produced a bumper crop of loose ends and unanswered questions.
Here are a few that have been knocking around in my head in recent weeks:
Am I helping or hindering my kids?
Am I where I’m supposed to be in my career and who decides what “supposed to be” even means?
Am I carrying my weight around the house with chores and home management duties?
Am I saying what I mean?
What’s really important and have I been investing in that?
What should I be doing to keep my family safe and healthy?
How can I make the most of our extended time together?
When will all this end?
Can I really celebrate a birthday under these circumstances?
Is this pain in my knee just age-related or something I should get checked out?
Why am I always cold?
When did a nap become my greatest desire?
At what point did I stop caring about sports?
How do I live out my faith when I encounter almost no one I’m not related to?
Am I saying the important things to the people I love even though they are the hardest things to say?
Do I lean into or fight against aging?
You can only distract yourself with work, household projects and TV for so long before you feel you need answers to at least a few of life’s questions. I believed that the answers would come the morning of July 30 when I awakened at the ripe old age of 50. I thought for sure an epiphany would accompany this milestone.
That’s supposed to be the payoff of aging, right? You trade your health, mobility, hearing, and vision for wisdom and 10 percent discounts at restaurants and retailers.
The trouble is, wisdom is eluding me. I’d like to blame it on the extraordinary global conditions we are immersed in at the moment. That would be at least one helpful thing COVID-19 could give me – an excuse. Truth be told, though, with each passing year my questions keep mounting and my answers diminish. I’m beginning to understand why one of my dad’s frequent refrains these days is “But what do I know? I don’t know anything.”
In turning an age that I used to associate with morbidity, I have been able to reflect with gratitude on my life’s best gifts. I am closer than ever to family and friends. I have my health. I have a challenging career that allows me to use my gifts. My basic needs are taken care of, allowing me to contemplate the items higher up on Maslow’s Hierarchy. I get to take naps on the weekend.
When I turned 20, it was a blip, barely worth noting. Thirty was fun and full of surprises. Forty represented an arrival at serious adulthood with big time decisions and responsibilities. I expected 50 to bring with it the answers to all the questions. Maybe the answers have been lost in shipping by Amazon. Maybe porch pirates made off with them before I could retrieve them. More likely, I had unrealistic expectations of this milestone.
Because of family schedules, the big celebration has continued into the weekend, and next week we will head to the lake to steal a few last days together before sending our oldest back to college. It will have been a celebration full of family, good food, laughter, and myriad well-wishes on social media. It was a good birthday, and I’ll take it, given all that the world is going through at the moment.
I’m choosing to be grateful. One of my dad’s favorite quips which he attributes to my Maw Maw: “Having birthdays sure beats the alternative.”
As for the answers to all my questions, it’s like I said – milestone birthdays tend to end in zero.