On the morning of my forty-sixth birthday, I woke up and decided that I was on the downhill side of the slope that was headed for fifty, and that fifty would mark the time at which there would be no denying that at least half of my life was over. At forty, I could indulge myself with the notion that I still had more than half of my life left to live. I could even imagine my eighty-year-old self still living independently and still sporting my own teeth and still able to pluck my own chin hairs. Not so at forty-six. In the manner that that time begins to fly by faster and faster the older you get, fifty is really only twenty-four minutes away from forty-six. And for almost all of us fifty means that life is more than half over because how many people do you know who’ve made it to one hundred? (We’re not counting Willard Scott’s Smuckers people because we don’t know them personally and they could be fudging just to get on TV.) And of those who’ve had a centennial birthday celebration, how many live independently, with teeth, and without chin hairs the likes of which you only see in church, nursing homes, or on Billy goats?
So on the day I turned forty-six, with my fiftieth birthday looming before me, I came to a conclusion that seemed obvious to me at the time. From forty-six on, birthdays are celebrated for the same reason that funerals are held: To fulfill a sense of obligation on the part of family members. At some point during her birthday party, the forty-six-year-old will inevitably think of her imminent death, not much fun in that for her. And at the funeral, the dearly departed doesn’t care one bit what flowers grace the casket lid or which song was chosen for the soloist. So, a forty-six-year-old birthday girl and a corpse have at least one thing in common: Family members are going to make a fuss, like it or not, living or not.
This conclusion caused me to spend few minutes pondering what the second half of my life might be like if I hadn’t acquired a husband and children during the first half of my life. With no family, I could just skip the whole darned birthday thing. Think of the possibilities! Not celebrating would be one thing, but with years of practice, the day might even go by without my noticing. Back in the real world, however, I do have a husband and children. So with them in mind, my thoughts wandered over to the possibility that I might be able to convince Tom to collude with me on the skipping-my-birthday plan. And as far as the college girls were concerned, I could just not answer my phone or open my mailbox, thus avoiding any imminent-death reminders disguised as birthday wishes coming from them. But, alas, there would be no escaping the celebration that my resident six-year-old was expecting to give me. Laura had been excitedly reminding me about my impending birthday for weeks. She had signed a card. She had wrapped presents to bestow upon me. In fact, everyone in our family has had years and years of personal training in ways to make a birthday special. Thus, they would each necessarily feel some degree of angst and personal loss if we couldn’t celebrate my birthday too, starting with breakfast and ending with dinner, which is our family tradition.
Well, there was no point being the birthday buzzkiller around here. And so I prepared to feign delight. I would don a false grin and bear it. I’d paint a smile on my face for the celebration, much in the manner of a mortician preparing the deceased for the viewing – there’s that birthday party/funeral parallel again. I planned to fake birthday mirth for the good of my family. I woke up on the morning of my birthday, took a shower in an attempt to wash away the external negativity, and was drying my hair when Tom appeared with a cup of hot coffee and a smile. Next, what I found waiting for me downstairs was simultaneously endearing and mouth-watering. Tom had secretly left the house at 6:30 AM to go to a local bakery to bring me back a warm brioche fresh from the oven. I’ll never forget that touch for as long as I live, or at least for as long as I’m able to pluck my own chin hairs. While we ate breakfast, I opened the most amazingly thoughtful gifts from my family.
Purple Crocs® to match Laura’s:
Gone With the Wind on DVD:
And a video iPod®:
The remainder of the day was sprinkled with telephone calls, emails, kindnesses, and sweet wishes from family and friends given with such good cheer that it made me feel warm inside despite myself. My forty-sixth birthday celebration concluded with a romantic dinner, complete with a view of the sun setting over the ocean, leaving me no option but to feel awed and fortunate to be in that moment. Notwithstanding my best efforts to focus on the dark side of aging, I was gently guided to the bright side of letting the good times roll. My husband rocks my world, my kids are sparkling little gems who light up my life every single day, and my girlfriends keep me spinning properly on my axis. The verdict is resoundingly in: I truly, fully, entirely, wholly, honestly, absolutely, really, utterly, completely, totally, genuinely, sincerely, thoroughly, and most unexpectedly, enjoyed my birthday. Heck, if my funeral is this good, maybe I’ll show up to hear “Amazing Grace,” which I really hope someone chooses for the soloist because I like it a lot. Oh, and these lilies are my favorites, just in case there is a question as to what should go in the floral tribute: