Another birthday has arrived, unannounced and wholly unwelcome, taunting that were I to shuffle off the mortal coil at this very instant, it could not be said that I died tragically in the bloom of youth.
Tragically, maybe, but not in the bloom of youth.
This is the day which used to mean roller skating parties, gooey, sweet yellow icing on moist chocolate cake and all the glorious notoriety and respect that comes with pre-pubescent birthdays.
Following Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the closest I ever came to self-actualization was on this day at some indeterminate point in my youth. Surrounded by friends and family, I took that measured step toward adulthood, bringing privileges heretofore reserved for those who were at least 48 inches tall, had lost their baby teeth or had no training wheels on their two-wheeler.
Birthdays never mean so much as they do in the single digit years. By mid-teens, birthdays signify the arbitrary age at which you are allowed to get into an automobile and drive away at will, no longer chained to parents who come and go as they please, never understanding the luxury of mobility.
Later comes the first truly adult privilege, conferred with justifiable reluctance; the sweet misery of alcohol. We all learn in our own way what that means and by 50, most of us either seldom imbibe or are already dead from too much of what we thought was a good thing.
In the time between then and now, we are too busy with life to pay much attention to the years piling up like stony gray steps toward the grave. But one day, without proper notification, we pass another milestone, that being the eligibility for an AARP card and membership into the society of geezers. AARP conditions us to expect discounts on everything (if not just free outright) because as old people, we deserve it.
Birthdays at my current milestone gently guide me down life’s darkest corridors for reasons I cannot explain and do not understand. Age lurks in the shadows, in all its ugliness and betrayal, right there in front of me, undeniable and yet somehow magnificent. No parties anymore, just annual exams in which cold, blunt instruments are forced into unwelcoming recesses.
Today’s journey down that musty dank passage deposits me with a question not unique but more poignant and sharp-edged, perhaps by the occasion, if a birthday can be an occasion any longer.
The issue is choices, or decisions actually, because they are the substance of life. We make them of small and large consequence every day and those choices determine every other event that occurs in our lives. Have I made good decisions?
Or have I been Prufrockian, afraid to disturb the universe, meting out life in coffee spoons? I struggle with that more so as I age than I should, preferring to make no decision than the wrong one, but simultaneously fearing my inability to arrive at a decisive resolution may deny me a majestic opportunity.
Whether free will is an illusion as modern thinking goes, or the future is revealed as it occurs is a matter of debate. It is also, thankfully, not resolvable. The consequences of either would be paralyzing. Knowing our decisions are pre-ordained from the moment our first cell split in two would drain excitement from daily life and reduce our existence to pointless activity. But can we easily live with simple decisions that had catastrophic consequences?
If I can escape the gloom of the path not taken by absenting myself from the decision, doesn’t that then beget another conundrum, that being the question of my purpose.
My poor brain doth hurt. All I want to know with some degree of certainty is that if the choices were mine to make, did I make good ones?
No answer comes.