Today is my birthday. Number 48. That’s 336 in dog years.
Every year, as I celebrate one more trip around the sun, I like to reflect about what the previous year has given me. Sometimes, those gifts aren’t so welcome (did I really need a swarm of termites in my apartment when I turned 21 or a raging case of pink eye when I turned 36?) Other times, the gift that greets me as I begin a new year is precisely what I needed (I am still rejoicing over my Forty-Year-Old Balls.)
The older I get, the more I’m able to recognize that even seemingly unpleasant gifts can hold great treasures.
Take my vision, for example. The past few years have been an ongoing quest for ways to combat the increasing difficulty of reading words that seem to require a microscope to decipher.
Initially I thought it must be some kind of trend: just as computers have gotten smaller, so, too, must the printed word be decreasing in size. After confusing 6’s, 8’, and 9’s on company financial reports at work too many times, I finally admitted it was time for the big guns: progressive lens eyeglasses.
Progressive lenses are made of several different prescription strengths arranged horizontally from top to bottom on each eyeglass lens. The idea is that the eye learns to look through different areas of the lens depending upon the current vision need. The bottom of the lens is for reading, the middle is for looking at a computer screen, and the top is for distance vision.
Wearing these lenses takes some getting used to while your brain figures out the best area of vision for each activity. If you move your head too quickly through all of the various prescriptions, you have the unsettling sensation of seeing stationery objects move. In fact, one day at work, I moved my head too quickly and swore I saw a badger run under my desk.
You don’t know the meaning of awkward until you’ve had to explain to coworkers why you suddenly jumped on top of your desk and screamed. This sort of conversation is supposed to happen only when you’re stoned or insane, not when you’re trying to figure out the vision sweet spot on your new glasses.
Badger hallucinations aside, middle-aged vision isn’t all bad. Because of it, I rarely notice spiders in the house any more, and the dust on the coffee table no longer catches my attention. This is such a welcome side effect that hopefully by age 50, I’ll no longer see those chin hairs that seem to multiply like bunnies or the actual size of my thighs.
These days, I feel as if I forget more than I remember. So many things compete for my memory that some of them simply never make it onto the hard drive of my Commodore 64 brain.
The bad news is that I may not remember to reply to your email or pick up a gallon of milk after work. The good part of this gift is that I’ll probably forget any wrong you’ve done to me. Holding a grudge takes up too much room in my brain, space that’s critical for remembering those 8,457 internet passwords and where I’ve hidden my chocolate stash.
Yes, it’s all about priorities, folks.
Perhaps the most unexpected gift of aging is that the limited nature of our time here makes itself known to us. With that knowledge comes an overwhelming desire to get the second half of our lives exactly right.
After decades of existing solely to care for others, I’ve finally found the courage to take steps toward my own dreams. At nearly 50 years of age, I’ve figured out what I want to be when I grow up and I’m unwilling to let anyone take that aspiration from me. Each new line that appears on my face seems to accompany an increased determination to live the sort of life I’ve always wished for (well, minus the size six figure. Even progressive lenses aren’t quite that magical.)
So here I am, a newly minted 48-year-old. I’m looking forward to all of the surprises and insights that this year will reveal to me.
Hopefully, one of those will be where I put my car keys.
**artwork by Evan Kern. Photo by Lisa Kern.