I had an awesome birthday today, spectacular. And I get to finish here, doing what I love best. It doesn’t get any better. I’ve just returned from dinner with my best friend who is a marvelous presence in my life once more. Until a year ago, maybe less, this man was known to others as “my former best friend.” I didn’t use this as a pejorative or because I desired to push him from my life, quite the opposite. It simply reflected the true nature of our relationship at the time: in question.
And that, boys and girls is the conclusion I reached today as the odometer turned over a whole new set of numbers. Everything I am in relationship to my life is in question.
It’s not so much that I dislike the number that precedes this zero or that I feel old, quite the contrary; that’s just the number talking. But people also talk: “Well, you’re over the hill, now!” Such enthusiasm for quitting. Does a football team quit at half time because “it’s all down hill from here”? Halfway, two-thirds of the way, first-quarter, who’s to say? I’m just getting warmed up. And that very feeling is also why I stalled out, swamped in a morass of questions, questions that dive bombed me like hungry mosquitoes on the ball field. I hated them, but not because they stung. I hated these questions because I thought their presence meant I was afraid; not of death, my realization of my own mortality came and went ages ago; no, that I was afraid of aging, a death far more fearsome than leaving my body behind. Aging means becoming invisible; you’re no longer hot enough to be flirted with, cruised, picked up, bragged about. Fear of aging, I said to myself, has you frozen like a cougar in the headlights.
But that’s not it. I am not frozen. I have paused. I am redefining who I am, perhaps defining who I am for the first time, and that is a profound place to be. And . . . it feels a lot like fear.
This morning, my birthday started with a potent mixture of desire and fear, fear of . . . so many things; the mind boggles. See, I got a surprise visit last night from “my sailor,” a man half my age - that’s right people, I said half - who was just in from Afghanistan, a stopover. I picked him up after midnight and took him back before noon. I know what you’re thinking. It’s what everyone thinks. And for them, that’s the end of it; same as hitting a certain age is the end of it. I was kvetching about this over dinner, telling my friend I never get the chance to say what it is, exactly, between my sailor and me; box gets closed before I open my mouth. That’s when I realized that I’d allowed myself to be boxed up not just by the judgment of others but also by my own.
That’s when I paused. My fear wasn’t about age. I mean, my sailor doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the difference, so why do I need to? I cared about being stuffed into a box where there’s no room for who I am, who this man is, or what we bring to each other’s lives. One of the things this man brings to me is a chance to be in relationship outside the box. When I’m with him, I am where nothing is known, nothing is certain, everything is in question. I am where anything is possible.