Someone once told me that freshly baked bread begins the process of going stale the moment it leaves the oven. I don’t remember who said it, but have to wonder what kind of person would share such a bleak notion with a child. A nihilist baker perhaps. I suppose there is truth in the concept, in a glass-half-empty sort of way. While not presented to me as a metaphor for life, it’s fitting. The moment we are born, we begin the march to our inevitable deadline. Having turned 40 a few weeks ago, I’m starting realize that I’m not as freshly baked as I once was.
Growing up, birthdays were always exciting breaks in routine. They meant Carvel ice cream cakes served on paper plates that featured comic book characters, a rainbow of two-liter soda bottles, family, friends, and some new toys from the cooler adults who understood that no kid wants clothes for their birthday. I recall arriving home from school on one birthday to find that my mom and aunt had decorated the house with crêpe paper and balloons transforming it into a birthday-o-rama. The idea that I was one day closer to reaching the kill screen at the end of the game didn’t occur to me that day. Luckily I had enough morose adults in my life to keep me unfettered from such mirth, stating something like “enjoy it now, when you get older, birthdays are just another day.” Again, I don’t recall who offered up that wisdom but I suspect the nihilist baker again.
People keep telling me that 40 isn’t such a big deal and I’ve been offered platitudes like: “it’s better than the alternative,” “every day is a gift,” or “40 is the new 30.” I’m not sure I find any of it comforting. I wasn’t too thrilled about turning 30 and if by alternative they mean death, then sure, 40 is the bee’s knees. Are there no another options? Cake or death?
Admittedly, I often struggle to see my glass as half-full and have felt a little melancholy about turning 40. I get to thinking about the statistical average life expectancy of the American male, and realize that I am a little more than half way through. I’ve lost enough friends and family members to untimely demise to understand that there are no guarantees, and do consider myself lucky to have made it this far. What is guaranteed, is that with each tick of the clock, life is shorter now than it was the moment before. That idea troubles me. Suddenly, I’ve become very aware of the time. Of course the funeral home coupon that landed in my mail box a few weeks ago certainly didn’t help.
My wife points out that we spend the first half of our lives just trying to figure things out and that the rest is to spend as we like with the knowledge that we’ve acquired. Certainly I am much wiser and happier now than I was at the ages of 8, 15, or 21. I’m not as tireless or bendy as I had once been, but otherwise, not much has changed. Sure, my tastes are a bit more sophisticated, but I still love spending time with my nose buried in a comic book or playing video games and collecting toys. I am unencumbered by the limitations of youth, yet have managed to hold on to curiosity, which apparently most adults have converted into savings bonds to pass on to their future grandchildren.
The nihilist baker was right: adult birthdays do tend to come and go with little fanfare. This year, my thoughtful wife put a significant amount of love and effort into marking this milestone to make it something more than just another day. As my birthday landed on a Thursday this year, we both made a long weekend of it (because we are adults and can do things like that) making my birthday a four-day celebration. Understanding that no 40-year old wants new clothes, my wife gave me a blue Snaggletooth, an action figure that I’ve been hunting for a long time. We took a trip into Manhattan for dinner and to see Eddie Izzard in concert. I’m not the star struck type, but sitting close enough to see Eddie’s choice in fingernail polish was a surreal and exciting experience. We spent the rest of the long weekend whittling down a Carvel ice cream cake, a Cookie Puss to be exact. I generally try to eat healthy, but am powerless against the cookie gravel that lurks within the waxy ice cream strata of Carvel cakes. My wife’s mission a success, the weekend helped me scare off the imaginary, circling vultures.
Forty finds me content. Eddie Izzard, Snaggletooth, and Cookie Puss aren’t the ingredients for happiness. What are is that I’m healthy and able enough to enjoy these things, and fortunate to have someone to share these things with. I am grateful to coexist with a best friend that not only understands me, but who encourages and challenges me. I’ve survived my growing pains and finally feel comfortable in my skin. I’m beginning to recognize this current version of myself as the guy I wanted to be when I grew up. Just without the cape.
Turning 40 doesn’t exactly make me a Methuselah. I’m not quite ready for an AARP subscription, and still have no interest in early bird specials or Matlock, though Netflix did seem to think that I might like Murder She Wrote and Agatha Christie’s Marple (Netflix must be in cahoots with the junk mailing funeral home). The process of aging, and deliberate demarcation of it, feels like getting lost in a good book and lamenting its inevitable conclusion. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I like it here, and to borrow a line from Doctor Who’s Tenth Doctor, I don’t want to go.
I hope to not spend too much more time reflecting on this subject. I’ve got too many things to do to waste time looking at the clock.