Savannah Morning News
May 7, 2017
A few weeks ago the odometer on my truck up and quit. And the speedometer. Bummer, I thought, since the old girl was approaching 195,000 miles. That’s something to be proud of. Those are bragging rights. Must be the cable, said Mickey the Mechanic. Simple fix. Bring it in. But maybe it was a sign. Everything’s a sign when your birthday’s approaching and that’s all you’re thinking about. Maybe someone out there is trying to tell you something. Maybe it’s time to stop counting the miles, time to start shaving off a few years from your professed age. Who would know? Time to leave the numbers where they are – either that or start telling people you’re 86 and stand back and glow when they tell you how great you look, “for 86”.
Birthdays can be tense, all those expectations. They didn’t used to be that way. There used to be an inner glow, all day. There was this secret bubbling up inside your head that only you and your old friends knew about. Now there’s a lot of pressure to enjoy your birthday. Now you have to live up to its reputation of being a special day. “What are you doing for your birthday?” my friend Billy writes. “Hope you have a great birthday,” someone else says, followed by, “It’s your birthday week.” It wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t this internal measuring stick (and 10,000 “friends” on Facebook) constantly calibrating your happiness level. Am I having fun yet? Is this fun?
“Be yourself,” one card reads. “Everyone else is taken.”
By this time, you’d think we would know that self, would like that self (not “like” as in social media but “like”: as in enjoy, appreciate, admire that self), but there are those moments – we all have them – when either we’re out of touch with that self or we’re not so happy with that self. (PS covering mirrors helps, looking at old photographs does not help). The good news is we know that everything changes so what might feel true today won’t feel true tomorrow.
There are some benefits to birthdays: a box of homemade brownies from the original recipe created by Katherine Hepburn, who, born in 1907, died at 96; a tray of homemade baklava, made from the hand of a Greek; a massage; a manicure; a dinner or two with friends, and maybe in the next few days a brownie or three for breakfast.
But there are the questions, nagging questions. Is this what you’re supposed to look like at 73? Is this what you’re supposed to be doing at 73? And finally, could that number really be right? Time to put pencil to paper or get a calculator. Note to self: yep, the math is right.
How does this happen?
Some things get easier. No. 1: we get more forgiving. As my friend Janice’s Yiddisha mama used to say, “No one sees the hump on his own back.” I see my humps (such a vivid word, such a vivid language). I see the things people are dealing with. I know none of it is easy.
Some things get harder. Oy, my knee – it just doesn’t bend the way it used to. My arm, I complain at night in bed when it can’t get comfortable. Or is it the bicep tendon? Whatever. It hurts. Then there’s reflux. Everyone seems to be getting it. Is this reflux? I ask someone who thinks she has it. With every bit of discomfort, I say, “I think I have reflux.” What did we do before we had names for things?
Some things get scarier. These days when I can’t remember someone’s name I take out my phone, start at the “A’s” and go through every contact – sometimes it even works – sort of like that character Julianne Moore plays in the movie “Still Alice.” She’s a linguistic professor who can’t seem to find the words – or keys or book she’s reading. I’m starting to call people Buddy or Mama or I might say, “How’s your bride/groom?”
This is what I know for sure. We all get shorter. Gray hair doesn’t curl up as well as brown hair. Handwritten thank-you notes go a long way. The cost of duplicating car keys is insane. People in Congress are insane (and selfish) and until they offer us the same health care benefits they enjoy I’ll never believe one thing they say. No storage unit needs to be the size of our Civic Center. Dogs can indeed bite people despite what their owners say.
For my birthday I’m planting horseradish so next Passover I’ll know where to secure some for the Seder table. With any luck the root – and I – will grow and prosper and I’ll remember where I planted it.