My favorite thing about getting older? Getting older.
See, I wasn't even supposed to be here. That's why my parents adopted first my sister, and then my brother. Then I came along, surprising everyone except, apparently, my mother, who at 40 had been longing to tell the doctors, who all knew better than her, that she could, indeed, conceive. Her alleged response to a later famous doctor: "then what the hell is this?"
At an early age I concluded that nobody ever really asks to be born. It's what you do from that point on that matters, if to no one else then at least yourself.
Getting older means having more opportunities to reinvent yourself, to learn new things, to surprise you. Sure, it also means eventually physical changes that no one really looks forward to. But in my mind, I'm still the 35-year-old my mother always said I was. Except now, instead of growing a mustache to look older as I did in my late teens, I'm consideing shaving it because, true to some remnant of Irish-Scotish and or German heritage, my dark reddish highlighted hair, that some thought when I was younger was black, and that apparently was more red when i was born, has now revealed itself as white. Making, like former Secretary of State John Bolton, perhaps, or other men of my certain age, my mustache look older than my hair.
Being 35 all my life, in my family, wasn't that unusual. And I admit, I still often feel about that age. But my mother's mother was 87 all the time I knew her--and that was for the first 18 years of my life.
And as for physical changes, I got back into Taekwando at 40, after being away from it probably about 20 years, and I'm happy to report I'm in better shape now, outwardly, than in my 20s.
I was born when my mother was 40. My son was born when I was 43. I learned and became fluent in Hindi and Urdu when I was 21. I learned and became fluent in Spanish in my middle 30s. I first rode a motorcycle when I was 16. I had been motorcycle-less from 1992. I found an essentially abandoned 1981 Honda CB 650 Custom--a much better, bigger bike than I ever had, my previous one being a used 1970-something CB400T overbored to a 550cc--and in a year-and-a-half have restored it to near-new.
It's true, I wasn't a general, like George Armstrong Custer, at 18. Or conquered any countries by my 20s, like Alexander the Great. Then again, I hadn't carved David like Micheangelo by the age of 25. Nor had I fulfilled my first agent's expectation that I'd be a huge literary success in my early 20s, like the other "enfant terribles" he compared me to.
But each year that passes I celebrate. Each year of life is another gift to me of time--time to spend watching my son grow up, so that now he's playing baseball and enjoying being outside in the Spring instead of cooped up watching television or playing a video or other game; time to work on my latest writing project, in hopes I might be considered worthy of publication by one of the larger arbiters of taste and what in the U.S. passes for literary success--if I get a Pulitzer before I'm the age William Kennedy was when "IronWeed" suddenly appeared, I'll probably celebrate more than if it happens after my 60s.
See, for me, considering I never expected to be here in the first place, each year is like a huge check being deposited in my bank account of time. My brother died at 45 years old. My sister died just before turning 53. Everybody dies, eventually. That's the punchline: "nobody gets out of here alive." But knowing the end of the story should never put someone off from reading the whole thing.
Some have suggested "living well is the best revenge." I say just living--or outliving, say, enemies or rivals--is.
Hemingway was, in fact, right: First, it is necessary to endure.
Then, you never have to worry about having something more to write about--a fear I'm happy to note that has passed, with the progress of age.
And that's why, when one friend recently told me--as I turned 51--"you're one step closer to the grave," I laughed and replied: "I prefer to think I cheated death his due for one more year."
I have done a lot of things, lived a lot of places, met some wonderful people so far. This May, like you, Huntington today, I just got another huge check of time deposited in my life account. What I do with it, naturally, is up to me. But I gotta tell you, I look forward to it every year.
Happy Birthday, Huntington. And don't worry--you'll always be younger than me...:)
Causes Terin Miller Supports
Civil and Human Rights.
Amnesty International; March of Dimes; Operation Smile; Medicines Sin Fronteras; UNICEF