Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I took a book out of the library yesterday by Stieg Larsson. He died when he was 50. I am turning 50 tomorrow, therefore...

OK, I am not knocking on heaven or hell's door, but the half-century mark is regarded as an important stage in life. And I have realized yet again that probably more than half my life is behind me.

I am not doing anything out of the ordinary tomorrow--by design. I will go to work, come home, and then all of us will share a Passover seder with two other families. I asked Verna not to let them know it was my birthday. We will celebrate as a family Thursday evening. Verna's father will join us at a local pizza joint, chosen mostly because Miguel wants to play video games, something we don't allow at home.

I am not averse to celebrating, nor am I modest or shy about calling attention to myself and my birthday[s]. Anyone who knows me well will testify that I like being in the limelight (at times) and enjoy a healthy modicum of attention. But for the past few years I have seen my birthday as just another day. Miguel and Maya get excited about their birthdays, as they should, and we honor them with gifts and--I hope--intense feelings of being special.

I lived in Israel when I turned 21, another important age marker across the spectrum of life, but I decided to spend the day without telling anyone it was my birthday. I treated myself to lunch at a favorite Jersualem restaurant, and that evening went with a friend to see Hamlet performed by a funky repertory theater troupe from London. The play was excellent. There were no props other than the actors and actresses. They made their own sounds for everything, including knock-knocking on doors and the whiny screech when they opened.

I guess the more psychologically inclined among us might read more deeply into my motives and say my actions then and now reveal either anxiety or possibly denial about growing older and facing my mortality. Or maybe not. Maybe I just said that because I really feel that way. Or maybe it is time to visit a therapist.

Or not.

My father began therapy when he was 60. He will soon be 78. He was unhappy when he looked back on his first six decades. He wondered if he had accomplished enough and the answers he came up with saddened him. So he sought professional help.

Nothing wrong with that at all.

I sense there might be a connection between my 21st and my 50th birthdays that explains my abnormal celebratory reticence. At 21, with the ribbon of life stretched in front of me, endless and full of possibilities, I was still adrift, unsure of where I was headed or what I truly wanted to do.

Fifty is somewhat similar. After leaving a sales job last August, being unemployed for more than two months, and then muddling through a luxury car sales job as the economy continued to tank, I am working part time in the non-profit world. My wife, who has a permanent retirement disability, makes more money than I do. And she's not working outside the home!

So, as I look back on my first fifty years, I am dealing with a fair amount of stress and sadness over my life. Like so many people, including family and friends, we are struggling financially, and I am very unhappy that I can't completely support my family.

Why party hard now when I really need to focus on securing full time work? Why celebrate when my heart isn't into it and I am bummed out about my status and inability to be a provider?

On the other hand, I am extremely blessed. Verna is very healthy right now, Miguel and Maya are sublime joys, and I feel great about my family, friends, and passions. Maybe that is why we are celebrating my birthday with family at Pinky's, a sports bar. Maybe turning 50 is about honoring those around me, for they are the blessings that make each day brighter. And that is why we are going to eat pizza on the first full day of Passover while Miguel enhances his hand-eye coordination (and lightens our wallets) with video games and Maya drinks apple juice and all of us share food and laughter on what is a momentous occasion.

There I said it.

Stieg Larsson dropped dead of a sudden heart attack in 2004, shortly after he submitted three manuscripts for what has become a wildly successful series of books about a young and unusual Swedish investigator. He never lived to see the fruits of his literary labors. I will soldier on through the muck and mist and the vessels of light struggling to burst forth beyond the horizon.

It is a happy, happy birthday!

No comments:

Post a Comment