A reflection on birthdays (on the occasion of my 39th)

LaVeyan Satanists tell us that our birthday is one of the most important holidays of the year because the person of ultimate importance is the one you see when you look in the mirror. Jehovah’s Witnesses tell us that celebrating your birthday will displease god, because they claim it’s ultimately pagan, connected to astrology, and (positively?) “the day of death is better than the day of birth” (quoting Ecclesiastes 7:1). This spectrum of interpretations is completely understandable as I find myself both loving and loathing birthdays.

I have found that after 30, birthdays are a mix of celebration and ongoing existential crisis. Every muscle pull and popping joint reminds you that your time is limited. Gravity is taking its toll! But now your mind is not as clouded as it was by the thrill and angst of adolescence (which lasts, at least for American males, until about age 27 now). You can see more in the rear view mirror which makes the journey a little easier. You’ve got a little more, what they call “wisdom”. But the future is less “open,” and knowing that you’re (or supposedly should be) settling on a career, a place to live, etc., feels like a first retirement.

This is 39, the last year of my thirties. Overall, I find myself balancing the pride of certain accomplishments this decade with the melancholy of recognizing the costs of certain ambitions. More importantly, this decade has taught me that even if you’re the captain of your own ship, the sea we’re on is vast. Any success—financial, emotional, physical—can’t be divorced from choices you’ve made but also couldn’t have happened without a whole lot of luck, chance encounters, and moments when the multiverse was favorable to your consciousness so that you experienced one of the better of infinite outcomes. And this principle is true of the failures as well. You can steer but you can’t control the weather. Thankfully, in spite of very real storm, my waters have been relatively smooth.

Next year’s 40, one of Hollywood’s favorite decades (“40 Year Old Virgin”; “This is 40”). For now, I enjoy the end of my 30s, and take comfort in being loved, relatively healthy, and materially comfortable. Also, Happy Birthday Barack Obama; Meghan, Duchess of Sussex; Billy Bob Thornton; and Jeff Gordon.

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