This is my semi-centennial year. That is, it will be if – as the word seems to imply – I subsequently have a centennial, which is by no means certain. I’m not even sure that it would be desirable, given the apparent trajectory of human progress, which looks more and more like regress with each passing day. Contemplating a 100th birthday seems a bit like when I watch an Adam Sandler film: gut instinct suggests early on to me where things are headed and I’m pretty sure it’s not worth cringing in a theatre seat for two more hours to confirm that I wasted $13 on a ticket.
Birthdays aren’t very important to me, generally: I don’t think I’ve had a party for one since Pierre Trudeau was in his first term as Canada’s Prime Minister.
My anniversary apathy might be inspired, in part, by the fact that I was born on the worst day of the year for receiving this sort of (non-familial, at least) attention – the same day said to be the birthday of the icon of an upstart cult that attained inexplicable prominence by co-opting a lot of Pagan and Jewish traditions. Perhaps if I’d been born a Jew (a wish that occupied no small part of my attention as a youth, though that’s another story) I’d have fared better.
Sharing a birthday with a cult icon isn’t the only reason for my under-attention toward birthdays, though. When I was a child, I had no expectation of ever reaching thirty, if even that. It’s not that I had an expectation, or even an intention, not to reach thirty – I simply was not equipped with the variety of imagination that might have inspired me to consider what sort of life I might construct for myself. I made no plans.
I suppose that this attitude is related to experiences of class origin and circumstance in many respects. Likely, the low-aspirational working-class environment in which I grew up was a factor. Or perhaps its genesis was very early childhood when I was so crippled with severe allergies and the questionable drugs prescribed to relieve them that I would lie on my bed in springtime wishing for death to retrieve me.
Perhaps, though, this emotional state wasn’t just a response to airborne cottonwood particulate, but to other upheaval occurring at that moment – a failed marriage, parental anger, sibling rivalry, social dissatisfaction.
I’ll probably never really know, and I’m not sure it matters significantly. I don’t sit around and fret over it much, and despite what I think is a healthy intellectual critique of my early life experience, I’m not consumed by resentment – not toward individuals, at least.
Institutions, however, might be another matter. Institutions like the habitual celebration of birthdays. I can see why – in the times of a certain cult icon, perhaps – the celebration of birthdays had more of a cultural value, particularly the birthdays of children, given what was probably a relatively high infant mortality rate, but 2000 years on these rituals seem a bit trite and boring, especially for adults.
What’s interesting to me about being in my fiftieth year is not that I’m going to be a conveniently round number.
It’s that I can sit up, in this mystery location, look around, and wonder, how did I get here?
And, more importantly: Now what?
“Now what?” isn’t such a simple question. In our youth-driven, high unemployment culture, the age of fifty isn’t exactly an ideal moment for self (re?)invention. On the other hand, regardless of the previous challenges beyond which I have – however inadvertently – persisted, I already won the lottery when I was born a white guy in a wealthy western nation, and it would be pretty shameful to whine about such a privileged predicament.
So, now what? The past shall be examined for clues. The future shall be explored, until no future remains.
Before American poet James Broughton died in 1999 (in his 86th year), he apparently said, “My creeping decrepitude has crept me all the way to the crypt.” Broughton’s gravestone in a Port Townsend cemetery is said to read, “Adventure – not predicament.”
Maybe I’ll call this year my “Golden Jubilee”.