This year was a milestone birthday for me, and it was one I was NOT looking forward to. So much so that for most of the last year I have been formulating my plan to spend the day locked in my house, alone, only interacting with a series of drivers who would deliver me food until I felt that my ancient and decrepit body was satisfied. I had even started putting money into a ‘mid-life crisis’ fund for whatever crazy stunt I tried to pull in the weeks or months after to make myself feel young again. I was absolutely prepared to go full ‘anti-birthday drama queen’ on the day, and to hate every minute of it.
I’ve never liked getting older. Watching my body change from bouncy and smooth to saggy and wrinkly, feeling my energy levels drop with every mediocre night sleep or early morning bathroom trip, developing aches and pains that I can’t remember the reasons for and that take longer to heal every time, and envisioning the endless stream of old lady conversations about renovations, grandchildren and medication has always made me shudder in dread. Aging was a slowly closing trap of loss and boredom that I couldn’t figure out how to stop, but at the very least could avoid commemorating.
As I got closer to the big day the people in my life started asking me what I was planning to do to celebrate. None of them seemed to really understand why I didn’t want to. Some of them even starting finding ways to work around my planned day of mourning, by scheduling celebrations on other days, initiating ‘surprises’ that I couldn’t stop, or by telling me they were going to join me in my wallowing, even if that meant pajama pants and shitty delivery food for them as well. They were persistent, invasive, and unyielding, and I am incredibly grateful for it, as I learned a few important things about ageing and birthdays because of them.
The people in my life are amazing. They are intelligent, creative, funny, adventurous, supportive, loving and a lot of fun. Yes, I still had friends and family in my life when I was 20, or 30, or whatever age we consider young these days, but they are nothing like the people that are in my life now. Even the ones that are the same people have changed enough that they are only barely recognizable as the same. Not only do they not take any shit from me, they won’t let me take any shit from myself or others. They have learned to embrace their quirks, ask for what they want, and move on when they don’t get it. They have learned how to be happy. Over the years people have come and gone from my life, but the ones who are with me now are the ones that have proven special enough to keep. Time has filtered out the people who were in my life for a season, and left me with only the people who are in my life for a reason.
I am better than ever. Right now, in this moment, at this age, I am the best version of myself that I have ever been. I thought that was the case last year, and the year before that, but it wasn’t. Every year since I started on this journey I have been growing. Of course I still make mistakes, and wind up following paths that I shouldn’t, and there are still things in life that happen to me that are out of my control, but the person I am today has developed the ability to learn from those moments rather than be defeated by them. I have learned to embrace change and chaos and conflict, and to grow because of it. And yes, my body is getting older, and softer, and gravity is having its way with it, but I have never been more comfortable with it, or known it better. I know exactly what I have to offer, and what I want in return, and there’s a confidence in that that my perfectly fit 20-year-old self never found. I don’t know if you’ve heard this before or not, but confidence is sexy as hell, and it has attracted better partners for me than a perfectly taut neck ever did.
My birthdays aren’t about what I want. You would think out of any day of the year your birthday should be the one day that gets to be all about what you want, right? Nope, it turns out that is entirely untrue. My birthdays are the one day of the year that my friends, family, and loved ones get to celebrate me, whether I really want them to or not. It’s the one day that I can’t put them off, deflect, or pretend that I’m not important enough for them to focus on. It gives them a chance to do things for me that I may not be letting them do at other times, and the chance to celebrate having me in their lives. As much as the attention may make me feel uncomfortable I have to acknowledge that they have earned the right to have that day.
For most of my life I’ve truly believed that after a certain point birthdays became about mourning what you once had rather than celebrating what you are. This year I learned how very wrong I was. Just because my number is going up doesn’t mean that I suddenly have to start contemplating plastic surgery, going to bed at 8pm, or watching DIY TV shows. I don’t have to become a wrinkly, tired, boring old lady, even if I am a little achy sometimes. I can stay the adventurous, entertaining, confident person I am right now, and can continue to surround myself with people who feel the same. One day we might turn out to be the strangest group of senior citizens you’ve ever seen, playing D&D with large print dice, painting our oxygen tanks horrible shades of orange, and smacking each other’s droopy butts until they sound like old leather, but you know what? I don’t care. And who knows, it may just give some future young person the chance to realize that getting older doesn’t have to be a bad thing.