Funny how the celebratory aspect of birthdays diminishes as you get older. You would think my son was the prince of the land, the way we celebrated his first birthday. Really, the hoopla continued until he was about 10 with extravaganza after extravaganza at various birthday hotspots around Bergen County, NJ, because you didn’t want to be seen as negligent in that department by the parents of your child’s schoolmates. There was no official scorecard kept, but mental notes were taken.
The parties go on a breather but then there are sweet sixteens (and quinceañeras for my Hispanic friends) that rival debutante balls. At 17, we get our driver’s licenses. We are adults at 18. We can drink at 21. The party continues with every birthday milestone. Even turning 30, we’re all still pretty happy. At 40, a little confusion becomes apparent. Are we still celebrating and what’s so happy about that birthday? Up until then, life still seems fairly spread out before us. At 40, we may begin to think we’re on the back nine, but we shrug it off. After all, we are as goodlooking as we’re ever going to be, and as healthy. From there on in, it starts to become a little bit of a struggle. The metabolism slows a bit. Clothes that fit a year ago suddenly seem a little snug. What’s all this hair in the tub drain? Perhaps your grandparents shake off their mortal coils, but at least there’s still a generation between you and your own departure.
The years pass and suddenly we’re 50. Our parents aren’t quite so vibrant anymore. Some get on the train to Elysium too and now mortality seems a little more real, a little closer. We have 50th birthday parties and put on our brave faces. Women stop menstruating. Is that a good or bad thing? They have menopause, a mysterious phase they all go through. Nobody explains anything to us men. We’re having problems of our own and self-medicate with sports cars, younger women and Viagra. We start going to doctors regularly to check for cancers of all sorts. They want to send cameras both up and down us. Cholesterol is a big thing. They need to monitor our blood pressure and blood sugar. I hear friends have gout. Isn’t that a medieval disease? Bring on the leeches.
My brother just turned 60. We had a family gathering. We joked what an old prick he is, but diabetes is knocking on the door. They keep taking samples of his face away to test for skin cancer. Retirement beckons. We start to exercise like demons, staving off aging and its eroding effects.
We are still here. We shake our fists at aging. We spit in its general direction. We shore up the battlements, hold back the siege. We shoot up our brave faces with Botox and attempt to smile. We look at each other. We still see beauty there and hope and life. We haven’t given up yet. We’re in it for the long haul.
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