Monday, August 11, 2008

Birthday (belated)

Someone I love gets to count an extra year to his life.  

Birthdays are so odd if you think about life as a continuum.  Not to say that they're silly.  They are useful for all kinds of things.  They're the marks on the long tape measure we extend along our time in the world.  But because they're relatively far apart and there's so much cultural (and medical) weight put on them--get your first mammogram at age 35, over-the-hill forty birthdays decked in black with headstones, sweet sixteen, etc.--it's easy to lose sight of the fact that we get older all year long.  We don't suddenly become 28 or 79 or 12.  

So on the one hand, I don't perceive my beloved as being proportionally any older than me, even though my birthday isn't until autumn.  On the other, I recognize that he's passed a markerpost, the day of his birth, and his age can be counted as a precise number of years.  Counting by months, days or hours wouldn't be useful.  Human beings age too slowly and we live too long.  The medical mileposts would be redefined in ways that aren't any more useful than the years measure, and culturally we'd probably miss out on some fun parties (although I could see having a blast at my 1,000,000 hours old party with all the kids and grandkids and greatgrandkids and great great grandkids ...)

I wonder if mayflies tell each other, you still look as good as you did yesterday.

I know he doesn't view aging the same as I do.  He never expected to get this far and aspects of that frustrate him.  His body can't always support his expectations of what he wants to do physically.  He's stronger than he's ever been but the toll he's paid out of his joints has brought him pain.  His shape has changed from lithe and light to powerful and dense.  His mind is broader and sharper than ever and the depth of his experience leaves many in awe of him.  Anyone can have that experience, but they have to be willing to train for it and seek it out and to take the chance that they might not survive it.  Unlike so many human beings, he doesn't claw to hold onto his life as long as possible, nor does he cram death into a box of abstraction.  It will come, to him, to those he loves, and there's no reason to hold back.  To lose his life doing something great and meaningful is much better than avoiding death and doing nothing that matters to him.  It makes him remarkable, though he finds that baffling.  To him, that's the only sensible way to live.

I used to have a devil of a time trying to accommodate what he did and didn't want to do on his birthday (he didn't want to artificially elevate what's otherwise an ordinary day,) but I think I've brought him around.  He always has and always will live on a continuum, but he's discovered the usefulness, not for medicine or culture, but between us and his friends and family, of celebration.  For a moment we can stop to take a breath, and smile, eat some beef jerky and reflect on the past, present and future.  For a moment we can pause and think about how far we've come since the day we were born.  

He's come many miles and breaths and hours and heartbeats since he was born, something the years can't measure in age, but I see it in his eyes.  Birthdays can't touch that.  There's no way to measure the full meaning of his life with a number that so many men reach who've done far, far less, or who've done more.  But it's never about the number.  It's the moment.  And he lives because of this moment, years ago, when his mother gave birth to a son.

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