Monday, December 05, 2005

Feeling Old

"The first thing I do everyday is read the obituaries. If my name isn't in them, I have breakfast. If it was in them, I'd have breakfast anyway. No sense going on an empty stomach." --George Burns

When one celebrates a birthday, they aren't really celebrating the actual birthday, but the anniversary of the day they were born. No one has more than one birthday. But for the sake of brevity, I will refer to the anniversary of the day of birth as a birthday.

What are we celebrating when we celebrate birthdays anyway? The fact that we survived another year. Is that a noteworthy accomplishment? It seems to me, unless you lead a reckless lifestyle, just surviving isn't much of an accomplishment. So when we acknowledge another milestone of existence with a celebration, we are really only saying that avoiding the grim reaper is a good thing.

But is it?

I see death as a graduation. A promotion to what I once heard referred to as "The Church Triumphant". The older I get, the more I look forward to it.

"This world is not my home,
I'm only passing through.
My treasures are laid up
Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from Heaven's open door.
And I don't feel at home in this world anymore."
--William Walker, 1809-1875

I don't fear death. I really don't. I fear incapacitation, and pain, and infirmity, and Altzheimers. But I don't fear death. There are times when I would welcome it. A birthday is one of those times.

I also fear being alone when I go. I know that sounds weird, but that is something that really bothers me. I am single, and except for my son who lives with me, I have no one who will be with me when I die, and that bothers me. I do not want to die and my body not be discovered for several days. I wouldn't want to be the one to discover someone's body that way, and I wouldn't want to put anyone else through that.

My grandfather suffered with emphysema, and died of it at the age of 84. At he end, he became philosophical. My brother lived with him and my grandmother shortly before he passed. My brother, who was undergoing some introspection of his own at the time, asked him, "Does the thought of dying bother you?" My grandfather's answer was profound in it's simplicity. This is what he answered:

"It's not the dying that bothers me, it's the gettin' on with it."

That's how I feel on my birthdays.

I remember when I had my first grandchild. My oldest brother didn't have any grandchildren yet and he is over 10 years older than me. I remember asking him if it made him feel old when he considerd that his youngest sibling was a grandfather. I'll never forget what he said in reply:

"I never feel old."

I like that attitude. It just doesn't happen to be mine. I do feel old. And it is on my birthday that I feel the oldest. Last week, I was in Wendy's with my son, and the counter person told me he gave me the senior citizens discount. I didn't ask for it. That made me feel old.

By the way, I always go into the restaurant instead of going through the drive-through. I never miss an opportunity to use the rest room. That is something you learn as you grow older.

The way I see it, there is something narcissistic in celebrating birthdays. It is a time when we announce the occassion to our friends in an effort to surround ourselves with other narcissists who will offer the concilliatory pats on the back to make up for all the times they failed to acknowledge real accomplishments during the preceding year.

I still remember when I was in my teens, back when the earth was cooling, I used to say "I hope I never live to be 30". I did make it to 30. And 40. And 50. And so far, beyond.

Birthdays make me reflect on past failures. I've missed a lot of opportunities. That is my own fault, really, most of the time. Maybe that's why the pain cuts so deeply. If I had tried and failed, I could at least have the satisfaction of knowing that I made an effort.

On my birthday, I recall the words of my hero, Cyrano de Bergerac who said:

"How Fate loves a jest. Behold me ambushed. Taken unawares. My noble foe, a lackey. My battlefield, a gutter. It seems too logical. I have missed everything. Even my death."

By the way. In case you're wondering. I am 54.

22 comments:

Pamela Reece said...

Happy Birthday Mark, how your next year of life is filled with love and light!

Mark said...

How indeed, Pam?

The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Happy Birthday, you old fossil!

Don't worry Mark...we're all getting old along with you- some of us faster than others! I taught a scary gymnastics class last Thursday that aged me at least 5 years; so I'm catching up to ya!

Now get off the addicting computer and go carpe diem for us.

Pamela Reece said...

Oops...meant to type "hope" now "how"...that's what I get for typing while drinking my first cup of coffee in the morning. I should wait at least until I'm on cup number #2 of java before attemtping to type! Yikes..anyway "Hope your next year of life is filled with love and light!"

Gayle said...

Mark, you know Pamela meant to say "hope"! And so do I: "hope" that your next year is filled with love and light.

Your picture doesn't look like you are 54! You seem to be in good shape, a thing to be grateful for. And you have a wonderful smile! This is a good post, but a little sad. It's because you are alone. There are many good women out there who would be honored by your attention, I'm sure.

SO GO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! :)

54 is not old, Mark. I'm 64 and don't feel "old." It's because you are depressed. Celebrating birthdays is just another way of celebrating life. I do think though, that the people who agree with aborting the unborn shouldn't celebrate birthdays. They aren't in the business of giving life.

I'm not afraid of death either, not for myself. I'm afraid of it for the people I will leave behind. That's the tragedy of death. And I fear being left behind. We do come into this world alone and go out of it alone, no matter how many people surround us. Not a cheering thought to be sure, but it's true none-the-less.

Mark said...

Yes, I knew what you meant, Pam. I just thought it was a particularly appropriate Fruedian slip. Thank you for the sentiment.

By the way, If any of you readers get the impression that I am becoming a cynical old fart in my old age, you are absolutely correct.

MadMustard said...

Mark, I wish you a happy anniversary of your birth date. I am just a few anniversary cake candles behind you.

What you said about dying alone struck a chord with me. I also live alone and have anguished about those same thoughts.

Now, on a lighter side… When I celebrated my 30th anniversary, some 20 years ago, a dear old friend of mine wanted to make me feel better about my milestone by saying, “You’re not getting better, you’re getting older.” She turned red and apologized for getting it backwards, but it has always been my favorite anniversary moment.

rich bachelor said...

Happy(?)...Birthday?
I'm turning 35 in ten days myself. Don't feel one way or the other about it, really. One more go-round. Less boring than being dead, I suppose.
But at least you can get all the people you like and love together, and spend an evening at least where everyone is mandated to tell you how awesome you are.

Mark said...

“You’re not getting better, you’re getting older”??? Another classic Fruedian slip! I love it!

FrenziedFeline said...

Happy Birthday, anyway, Mark! ;)

Mike's America said...

Mark: I hope I like that good when I am 54. Anyone with such a youthful smile and ebullient outlook can never be old.

Hope you have a GREAT birthday!

Also, Salon.com linked to one of my posts on the "Defeaticrats." Full blown moonbat invasion.

http://mikesamerica.blogspot.com/2005/12/defeaticrats-still-for-surrender.html

If you want to have some birthday fun, come on over. It's like shooting fish in a barrel or clubbing baby seals. So easy!

Again, Happy Birthday!

Mike's America said...

P.S. Rich Bachelo: 35???? Oi! I still had the model looks of wet dream at 35! You wait until 45 and then come talk to me...

Pamela Reece said...

Hey, maybe us December birthday folks have "Fruedian Slips" on purpose just to mess with people? Or, is it once we pass 40 it's because our brains just move faster than our fingers? Ah..who cares..we share the month of the birth of Christ, now that is something to smile about!

tugboatcapn said...

Happy Birthday, Mark!!

My God, you're old...

I'll be forty on my next one, if I decide to have any more...

Even more mind blowing is the fact that Bachelor is only 34...
How did you get so cynical in such a short time, my friend?? I thought you were about Seventy!!
(Just Kidding...)

I told my mom once on my birthday that I thought that it really should be a celebration for HER instead of for me. After all, SHE did all the work...
She told me to shut up and blow out the candles...

Anyway, Happy Birthday, Mark, and I hope you have about eighty more!!

You are a fine person...

Francis Lynn said...

Happy B'day, Mark. Look on the bright side - you're one year closer to death ;)

tugboatcapn said...

THAT'S the Bright side??

What's the DARK side??

Mark said...

No, he's right, Tug. One year closer to graduating to the Church Triumphant!

My bald head resembles Heaven.

There is no parting there!

Mary said...

Mark! I haven't stopped by any blogs in a while and I just happened to come over on your birthday.

I'm so glad I have the opportunity to wish you all the best on your birthday (even though it will be belated by the time you read this.)

You may be feeling old now, but I predict you'll be feeling younger again someday.

I don't think it's a matter of how many years you've put in as much as it's a matter of how worn out you happen to feel.

When I was 20, I was a mess, really exhausted. I never felt older than I did that year.

Also, I've found that I can be surrounded by people and still be isolated and lonely.

I don't let that bother me anymore. The fact is no other human being can experience life in the same way as another. In that sense, each of us is detached and alone. That's the nature of our physical existence.

I look for peace and comfort on a spiritual level, through my faith. Our bodies age, but our spirits can't be constrained by the limits of time. The soul doesn't get old. What's eternal doesn't age.

Happy Birthday, my ageless friend!

Daffy76 said...

Don't feel bad, Mark. Like I was telling a friend who will be 60 on her next birthday, 60 is a lot younger than it used to be.

Last year at the church where I work, we decided to honor our oldest members by listing their names in the newsletter. We didn't list exact ages, but we did say that everyone listed was over 85. One lady whose name was on the list threw a fit. She said that a person's age should never be published without their consent. She was right. But it struck me funny. She was 86 years old and she was still worried about someone finding out her age. When doesn't it matter anymore?

I hope you had a wonderful birthday. My husband's is today. He's 32.

Michelle said...

Happy Birthday Mark...like it or not. ;)

Mark said...

Thank you all so much for the Happy Birthday wishes. they are all greatly appreciated.

TECH said...

Happy birthday and many more.