"A true portrait should today, and one hundred years from today, be the Testimony of how this person looked and what kind of human being he was"--Phillipe Halsman
August 12, 1959--publication date of Dr. Seuss' book, "Happy Birthday to You".
I spent the early dawn moments trying to google up the English meaning of a phrase of unknown origin. I worked out that the phrase had a meaning in Tagalog, but the transliteration of the meaning did not convey the true meaning. Thus, I am now awaiting the result of a post in a LiveJournal community improbably but usefully devoted to the translation of phrases from language to language.
Outside the window, dark, gorgeous clouds hover overhead. Our spare room, where my computer sits, has blinds covering a large window, but above the blinds a half-circle of window remains uncovered. The clouds I see loom dark but not thunderstorm gray. They predict a mild day, light chance of rain, at least to my non-meteorological eyes.
I read a website memorial about a woman who was born on August 12, 1959. She went in last year for tests at a Nevada lab. Her last act was "coding" in the MRI machine,being found on the verge of mortality by the lab technician who had stepped away for a moment. The site had pictures of her kids, the requisite rage at the testing lab, pictures of the deceased, both formal and informal photos of the departed, and testimonials from friends and loved ones. A detailed narrative, with an abrupt conclusion.
Today I am forty six. I don't mind aging (which is just as well, as aging would proceed even if I did mind). I do notice that forty six is on the other side of that "hump" that bumps up at age forty five.
It's four years from fifty, an age both awesome and unimaginable to me, and yet only a number, after all. Yet by and large, my thirties were happier than my twenties, and my forties have been happier than my thirties. I've had a full, rich life--the kind of life I'd have to characterize as fortunate. If I coded on the operating table, nobody would have to write about how I was so young, and did not get a chance to live. Despite that advantage in my history, I'd rather not spend any time either on any operating tables or coding any time soon. Yet we don't always pick our experiences--so often we live with a myth of endless choice, when in fact so many fascinating things come to us unbidden.
Today we'll celebrate my birthday quietly, as I prefer. I'll go to the office to try to work for my clients. We'll have a simple dinner, either at home or at a nearby restaurant. I'll hear from a relative or two, sometimes belatedly. Tomorrow morning, I'll arise early, to take a walk in the dawn outdoors.
In some faiths, certain religious holidays serve as times of recounting and summing up. For me, my birthday serves some of this function. I think that sometimes we lose the significance of the milestone quality of birthdays in this post-anti-biotic age. We suffer, in some ways, from presbyopia. We can't see very far or very deeply, and yet we sometimes can't read what's right before us, in ornate print. For all that, though, walking through life is a pleasantly energizing blur. During stray moments, today, I'll try to put the lens on right (ignoring for a moment that in some ways I've bent the frame) and try to focus, for a moment. What is right before one is ready to be read--the challenge is that the answers are sometimes buried in the text.
If I have a "resolution" for the next year between birthdays, it is to live with hope and not despair.
There is enough of bleakness in life without my adding a personal contribution to the admixture. So many times I come to realize that age poses no real barrier to anything I wish to do. The barrier is in the doing of it.
I do think, though, about one of my favorite yardsticks. "What would the 21-year-old version of me think about me now?". This exercise is mildly fatuous, because pedestalizing one's younger self is perhaps a bit ivory-tower. Yet I take some pride to think that the 21-year-old me would have been in the main pleased. I'm sure that younger man would want me to be a far more active and far more good person than I am. He would be amazed that I'm childless, but relieved that I'm happy.
As I think about it, though, I am beginning in my mind to formulate what my forty six year old self thinks of that young man. I'll set the image aside for the present.
I think that if I have one thing I like about myself, it's that I have the ability to appreciate the richness in small things. It's that ability I'd like to be able to share, in more concrete ways than I do. I haven't the energy or the teamwork orientation to do great things to help others, but I'd like to do more small things than I do. I become reconciled to being a kind of remote rocky and somewhat undiscovered tenth planet rather than a gas giant, but I imagine that my eccentric orbit might still serve some function or other. I spend a lot of my life seeking its meaning, which is a somewhat Victorian way of seeing the world. But unlike the fevered seekers, I've usually been granted the gift of personal contentment. I read sometimes the weblogs of people I like, and realize that people are in some ways more vivid in their interior lives than I am. My inner voice and I tend to have a rather conversational dialogue, with only momentary lapses into panic or anger. We chat, and, perhaps sadly, find ourselves endlessly fascinating.
Today I am forty six. I have a wife who loves me, a good career, and an endless array of hobbies, each of which I take up with more bravado than skill. I do not know the span of my years, nor the directions of my daydreams, but I know that it's good to be alive today.
I found the diary of the Canadian woman I quote above today. Today is a good day to pick a pail of beans. Last night the combines a few blocks from me were mowing down the fields of field corn, which will make either feed or grits. I saw tractor trailers with long beds, receiving mountains of the huge corn kernels. Seven years of harvest, seven years of famine. Grown and shorn. An endless span of cyclical days. I'll live my section as if the days belong to me.