My 40th Birthday

Holy fuck, I’m 40. In what crazy-ass time-warped universe could I possibly be 40 years old? I was just 29 a few days ago… In some ways it’s unthinkable, in some ways it’s inevitable, but mostly the act of turning 40 is, for me, uneventful. It’s never been the number that’s bothered me. There are deeper forces than some arbitrary milepost at work, and that’s where my head is at right now.

‘The Big Chill’ was on television the other day, and watching that when you’re about to turn 40 is akin to watching ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ when you’re about to turn 21 (I managed to do both, with various emotional landmines exploding around me). The first time I saw ‘The Big Chill’ I found it drab and dull, but what was once a big bore suddenly became relevant and relatable. The set-up is slightly contrived, but it provides the perfect backdrop for the ruminations of incontrovertible middle-age: following the suicide of one of their college friends, a group gathers and finds their lives far from where they thought they’d be. Here was a group of people who found themselves losing their way and grappling with the realization that while the time for dreaming went on forever, the time for action and for doing anything may have already passed. There’s a coldness to this, and a hardening of the heart that, once begun, is very difficult to slow or stop.


“I haven’t met

that many happy people

 in my life.

How do they act?”

~ The Big Chill

I’ve felt that chill recently. I don’t know if it’s turning 40, or simply the ripening of my situation. I’ve been with a loving gentleman since 2000, I’ve worked my way up to a decent position at work (after starting out as a Grade 5 Data Entry Machine Operator almost a decade and a half ago), I have a wonderful support group of close friends who’ve stayed with me for the better part of several decades, and I’ve been generally healthy for most of it. In so many ways, I have so much. Yet there’s been a gradual erosion of the spark and jolt of feeling alive, of new experiences and new places. I find myself looking back at previous periods of life and thinking how much more colorful and exciting they were, how much more passion and excitement and hope buzzed with the birth of each day.

Unused to such nostalgia, I was surprised by the worry and weight that was slowly building. There was a sense of general ennui, to the point of madness, in what followed a long, gentle, barely-discernible slope of sadness. Yet for all of that, I haven’t done much about it. I’ve been complacent, unable to muster the real ambition and drive to do anything other than vaguely complain or whine on occasion, finding substitute thrills in clothing or cologne or the same old trips to the same old places. I’ve wondered about those friends from high school and college, as I watch them expand their families on FaceBook, as I hear from them on birthdays, as we move further and further away from our youth, and from each other. I hope they are finding their own happiness.

“I just love you all so much. I know that sounds gross, doesn’t it? I feel like I was at my best when I was with you people.” ~ The Big Chill

Then I think the terrifying thought: what if it meant more to me than to them? What if everything I’ve ever believed in was a minor footnote in their lives? It’s so hard to tell whether we matter – whether we really and truly matter. A crippling doubt envelops everything then, and an insatiable insecurity – never quelled, never satisfied, never conquered – over-rides all the good I’ve ever tried to do in this world, and suddenly it all feels so pointless. We want so much to mean something to somebody. Anybody.

“A long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. No one had a cushier berth than we did. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough.” ~ The Big Chill

I have to believe that it still matters, that we still matter, that what we went through together still means something, still holds a place of significance in our hearts. I have to believe that love doesn’t just disappear, doesn’t fade away even when time and place and circumstance keep us apart. I have to believe that even in the smallest, most mundane motions of a day there is meaning and magnitude and magnificence. If we don’t believe in that, if we don’t believe in something…

“Wise up, folks. We’re all alone out there and tomorrow we’re going out there again.” ~ The Big Chill

I don’t want to think that we’re alone. As much as I love my solitude, and as well as I do forging my own way, I don’t ever want to feel that I’m truly alone. I also don’t want to feel like nothing matters. If I’m dramatic or high-strung or over-the-top, let me be that way. The opposite is apathy. There’s nothing more cruel and damaging to the human spirit than someone who just doesn’t give a shit. That kind of coldness can crush the happiest soul.

And so I greet 40 with gleeful defiance and happy ownership of everything I’ve done up until now, and everything I have yet to do. I will still be here. I will write, and I will take pictures, and I will read and garden and sing along to Madonna songs as loud as I like. I’ve done it since I was a child, I’ve done it as an adult, and I’ll do it until the day I die. I’m taking all the foolish baggage that comes with turning 40 and turning it into something to signify the start of everything. We are far from done here – and we always will be.

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