Ten days ago I turned 40.
In the weeks leading up to it, family and friends offered many thin smiles, sympathetic tones, mournful glances and discouraged shakes of the head. They wanted to know how I would mark this occasion of decline. Did I have something special planned? Were my knees creaking? Did I suddenly feel short of breath?
Apparently, turning 40 is a big deal – for everybody except me.
For the record, here’s how I spent a very enjoyable day in the Pennsylvania town where I grew up and then left many years ago: Went out with my dad to buy some new running shoes. Noticed a low tire pressure indicator on the dashboard and inflated all four tires. Browsed for an hour in a favorite bookstore. Visited my oldest friend for a couple hours. Went to church with my family. Had a fun birthday dinner at my folks’ house. Stayed up late – barely – because my kids wanted to be awake when the New Year rolled in. Failed to kiss my wife promptly at the stroke of midnight and still haven’t heard the end of it.
I also found myself reflecting on the many reasons I’d rather be 40 than 20. Among them:
5. I’m still here: This is perhaps easy to take for granted, but its significance should not be underestimated.
4. I’ve gotten over my hair: It started falling out when I was 21 and became an obsession for a number of years. Now I can say with complete candor that I don’t care at all. The only woman I’m trying to impress anymore is my wife, and she’s the one who encouraged me to take the clippers to it. It’s a good feeling to be comfortable in your own skin, especially when more of it is showing.
3. I’ve gotten over Hungry Man meals: This was a staple of my diet back in my 20s, which not surprisingly were punctuated by an anxiety disorder. When I think these days of all the fried chicken dinners I consumed sitting on the floor of my furniture-less apartment, I’m actually encouraged. It’s a sign that I’ve made mistakes and learned not to repeat them, at least sometimes.
2. I have not gotten over Depeche Mode: A few years ago, the CD player in my car broke. Repairing it meant removing an entire unit that also included the car’s climate control system. So I spent about 10 days in February driving around with no heat. My son had to ride to school each morning wrapped in a blanket. But worse than that was knowing that the repair technician was going to pry open the CD player and find Depeche Mode’s “Music for the Masses” stuck there. That seemed very uncool even for someone as uncool as I am. But I was only 37 and more self-conscious. Now in my elderly years, I no longer apologize for many things, including ‘80s techno. The older I get, the more honest I can be about what I like. It’s nice.
1. I know less than I used to: When I was 20, there was a lot I didn’t know. But I insisted on believing I knew quite a bit. Thus, I spent much time on the defensive. Twenty years later, more often than not I’m inspired by the many things I don’t know, instead of threatened by them. It’s exciting to learn and to find I’m capable of more, and sometimes less, than I thought. The reward, it seems, is usually more in the journey than in the knowing.