Today is my fiftieth birthday.
It’s surreal for a number of reasons, chief among them is the fact that my mind keeps telling me I’m not fifty, even though I know that I am. My thoughts, my perception of the world, how I look at all that surrounds me … nothing really has changed. I still feel, mentally at least, like I have always felt ever since I was a young man.
Me at 25
I’m fascinated by the fact that I am growing older. Each new wrinkle, every new patch of grey in my formerly very red beard is a source of wonder. I look at myself in the mirror the same way that I used to gaze upon various items through my old microscope I had a lot of fun with when I was a kid. Items like bugs, leaves, even salt crystals or grains of sand. (If you had one as a kid, you’ll know what I’m talking about.) I have learned, now, that as your body ages your mind doesn’t necessarily decide to age along with it. I remember my mother’s fiftieth birthday way back in 1984 when I was sixteen. In my mind, that’s literally yesterday. Wham! was yesterday. (And poor old George Michael is no longer with us.)
My car & dog Toby – I snapped this shot and developed it when I was 16
I have been thinking about time a lot lately. Not the passage of time but rather, how we perceive it. I believe that our minds don’t perceive time on a personal level but do so when it comes to those external factors. So every celebrity death tends to act as a benchmark for a period of time that is forever frozen in our minds. A shot in the shoulder to remind you that you too are not going to be here forever.
Last year when Prince died, I was absolutely floored for a few weeks. Even now, more than a year after his passing, I still can’t believe that he is gone. His album Purple Rain was one of the soundtracks of my high school years. And listening to When the Doves Cry now is bittersweet because I can remember the first time I ever heard that song. A friend slapped the cassette in my shitty Sparkomatic cassette player and filled my beater car with that unforgettable opening.
I have found, lately, that I tend to say “I remember the first time …” when just hanging out with my wife and a song comes on the radio or an anniversary of something I remember pops up in the news. I’ve asked my mother about how she perceives time and it’s the same thing for her. Now well into her eighties, she says that she still feels like she has always felt and perceived time the way that she always had.
Still, growing older does offer some benefit in spite of the fact that we are all of us, marching to oblivion. I experience a measure of insight that I didn’t possess as a young man. I am more patient now than I have ever been. I am able now to be less reactive and more proactive. I’m not thinking about retirement because unless I win the lottery, I expect I will be working until I kick the bucket. I dream that maybe I could make a living at this whole writing gig but with eight novels and one children’s book to my credit, I’m nowhere near hitting pay dirt. And of course, at 50, my mind thinks I am half my age! I actually manage to convince myself that I can do a ton of yard work and walk my dogs three kilometres without breaking a sweat. But when I am doing the work, I find the energy just isn’t there like it used to be. When I return from a long walk with the dogs, I need a good rest for a bit.
I worry about the future – mostly for young people. I worry about the effect of social media on our brains and our culture becoming tribalized and the end of civil discourse. I try not to think about it, but it’s pretty hard when you sit in a restaurant and see that people at every table aren’t talking to each other and instead, are swiping their screens.
I’m not entirely sure where I am going with this blog post. Fifty seemed like a point off in the distance that was so far away you couldn’t even read it on a map. Suddenly it’s here now and I can look back and understand why it arrived so fast. My life had been too busy. Far too busy. I think that if I could offer one smidge of advise to young people it would be this: keep it simple. Keep your life as simple as you can. Squeeze every last drop out of each day. Don’t rush. Slow down, you move too fast, as the old song goes.
I didn’t really understand that as a young person and I didn’t have anyone reminding me that I should.
As I enter this new decade of my life, I have discovered the only thing that matters is very simple, actually. My son asked me this week what I would like for my birthday. I replied by saying that I want everyone to have a good meal this Thanksgiving long weekend and to be at peace.
That’s what I want for the rest of my life. To be at peace with everyone and everything. To enjoy each day and to be content with what I’ve got.
Maybe that’s wisdom. Maybe I have that now, finally. Achievement unlocked.
Fingers crossed for the next ten years.