For a while, every birthday really feels like it means something. It’s not just the ones that mark a new decade or phase, or the ones on the fives, or the ones that make some adult activity legal (though there are so many of those for a while there): I’d say 14 feels markedly different than 13, for instance, and 17 a weirdly big step up from 16 (plus, R-rated movies!). When you turn 23, you’re out of college, or no longer college-aged. At 26, you’re entering your “late twenties,” so that’s something.
I’d respect an argument that 27 is the first age that just isn’t really anything, though it’s debatable (baseball nerds know that that’s the accepted “peak age” for your average ballplayer, so it’s a bit of an interesting reflection point for us definitively-not-athletes). Thirty-one certainly isn’t much. At 32, you’re no longer thirty-ish, so that feels like something. Thirty-three…I don’t know, there’s something cool about 33. I guess it’s the symmetry. It’s also the age at which Jesus is believed to have been martyred, so there’s that.
My point is this: 34, which is the age I am for the first time today, just isn’t a thing. It’s definitively, inarguably not anything, as a human age. Now: it’s the uniform number of my childhood hero. It’s the atomic number of selenium, which is used primarily to produce glass. As an age, though, what’s 34? Nothing happens at 34. It’s one of the first ages one becomes without really feeling anything’s changed. You can say you’ve made it longer than Jesus, I suppose, but he redeemed mankind and healed lepers and everything and what have you done, really, up against all that?
So without any milestones to lean on, you’ve kind of just got to look at your actual life, without the crutches of those artificial filters and measuring sticks and what-have-you. And that can be pretty scary. Or just pretty boring. Or both, or (a) because (b), or…it can be lots of things.
But, I mean: there’s a lot of good coming. Thirty-four is the year during which my first-born starts kindergarten and my second gets out of diapers. It’s the year of a new, probably more or less permanent home and the first full year of a much healthier lifestyle than the one I’d become accustomed to, and early indications suggest it might be the year in which I start to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.
The nice thing is that all those false milestones and artificial measuring sticks and whatever else are, you know, false — our bodies and lives don’t operate in sets of 365 days, or in groups of five or ten or 21 or 30 or 50 of them. Every year is worth reflecting on and celebrating, just because 365 days is a fucking lot of days, and every now and then, after a fucking lot of days have passed, it’s nice to kind of stop and take a look back and forward; given that, absent any more logical or less arbitrary option, you might as well do it on the day you were born.
With that bit of rousing inspiration in mind, here are, let’s say, the five most important things I’ve learned during the year that’s passed since my 33rd birthday:
- Complacency is for the dead and dying. There should always be a Next Thing, or a Plan B. Always. If nothing else, even if you think life is perfect and secure forever, a little daydreaming can’t hurt.
- My wife can do anything. Seriously. She’s amazing, and can adapt to any awful situation. I think it’s a thing women have, but she’s clearly the best in the world at it. Sorry, quite literally everyone else on the planet.
- The universe can survive my “coming out” as a lefty to my wonderful but quite conservative dad. It happened by accident right at the height of election season. There were some arguments. Now we mostly talk about basketball instead.
- Rest makes a difference, now and then. I’ve learned that three baseball deadlines a week that keep me up until 1 a.m. and a day job that gets me up at 5ish make for a not entirely productive and often a very cranky lefty. It’s tempting to chalk it up to age and not being in college anymore and all that, but no, I’m pretty sure that that sort of thing never worked, and that the difference is never having the option anymore to just sleep ’til like noon or so.
- Not much beats having a friend who listens to all your shit and more or less “gets it.” I knew that once before, but I’d kind of forgotten it until recently, and that was dumb of me.
And with that, as I write this, it’s almost actually my birthday, and I’ll be finishing my glass of wine and heeding Thing Number Four. Cheers, Internet.