By John Roach
There are birthdays, and then there are Birthdays.
When you are a child, every celebration of your arrival is exciting.
It’s all about you, with balloons, cake and cards.
As you get older, birthdays, because they have begun to accumulate, matter less. In the grand scheme of things, how much does it matter that you are turning thirty-seven?
But there are certain birthdays that serve as important benchmarks, gauges against which you check your life.
You turn twenty-one. You celebrate The Adult Birthday. Of course, twenty-one-year-olds are hardly adults. In fact, you are still an adolescent, but you can see adulthood from where you are standing. Your life as a student has ended or will soon. You will have to cut your hair, stop doing Red Bull and vodka shots at midnight, buy some business clothes and get up early in the morning. Good luck.
You turn thirty. The Look In the Mirror Birthday. You confront the questions this benchmark demands: Am I on the right course for my life? Is the person I am seeing the real thing or just another dance? Am I married? Do I want to be? Do I have kids? Do I want them? Am I in the right career? Or do I want to torch my cubicle and hang my boss out the window from his/her ankles as Bud White did to the predatory district attorney in "LA Confidential" ?
Forty is The Halftime Birthday. Actuarially speaking, you are at the halftime of your life. So you go into the locker room, take a look at the score and assess. If you are going to make any major changes, now is the time because your window of opportunity for course corrections is rapidly closing. Happy in your marriage? Comfortable with those extra thirty pounds? That third brandy every night? Like your career? If the answer is "no," you best take action soon or you are locked into the dreaded Life of Quiet Desperation to which many allude but few admit.
Next is The Big 5-0. They blow up the black balloons, buy you a cane with a horn and welcome you, legitimately, to middle age. By this birthday your body is beginning to proclaim its age. Joint pain, hot flashes and reading glasses are your new friends. Your fiftieth birthday is there to remind you that, though you can run from Father Time, you cannot hide. At its core, this birthday is a simple, stark statement: "Hey. You aren’t young. Not even close."
And then comes the benchmark facing this writer this month.
Sixty freaking years on the planet.
If this is the year of your sixtieth, you were born in 1953. In that year, the life expectancy for an American male was sixty-six years. Along with doo-wop music floating from a tiny radio out into the summer night, mosquito fogging and the smell of a new baseball mitt, your memory of sixty years old is of people near death.
By such standards, a sixtieth birthday should be called The Near-Death Experience.
But wait. While you were growing up they discovered that smoking isn’t good for you. Neither is too much red meat and booze. Plus, they invented safer cars and statins and they’re giving cancer a run for its money. So even though you are now the age of what old and near-dead looked like when you were young, you aren’t really that age. Or so you say. But if not, what age are you? How do you label the sixtieth birthday?
The word that comes to mind is "savor." By the time you’re sixty, there is no argument that you have lived a lot of life. Decades of marriage and relationships. Parenting. Work. By any gauge, you have done a lot.
So let us proclaim the sixtieth birthday as the Have a Cigar benchmark.
When you hit sixty, take ten minutes. Put your feet up. Light a cigar, even if you have never smoked one, and congratulate yourself. One won’t kill you. Laugh at the historic symmetry that a cigar is what your father presented to everyone he knew in celebration of your birth. Laugh harder knowing that he wasn’t actually a witness to your arrival because back then they wouldn’t let him in the delivery room with your mother, much less allow him to cut the umbilical cord.
But surely, having lived sixty years you have earned a moment to gaze on a rich sunset and savor the simple fact that you have survived six damn decades of drama, mistakes, sadness, joy, loss, confusion, passion, ambiguity, bedlam and fun.
You know ...