I had a birthday recently. There are times of the year when we all think about time passing, New Year’s Day, the beginning of a new calendar year, is one. The changing of the seasons. Birthdays, as much because there is a number attached to it as anything else.
I certainly didn’t feel any older the day following the birthday, but I knew I was older. Perhaps the most pressing question, and the most chilling, is this: how many more birthdays will there be?
When young, I never thought about this at all. Life seemed to stretch before me, full of endless possibility. As a child there was only family, school, play, books and friends. A birthday meant presents and celebration. What could be better?
In college, life stretched ahead, perhaps slightly better defined: I’d have a career, a nice house, have stuff I wanted, as long as I could afford it. Years went by, work became a larger part of my life. With advancement came responsibility and pressure. The hours got longer, the joy of work diminished, the idea of retirement began sound awfully good. Ah, retirement; summer vacation without September. Still, I never thought much about my age, except once a year, on my birthday.
Everyone knows life is finite. Around the time I turned 55, it occurred to me that I was further towards the end than the beginning. That was about the time the question “how many more birthdays will there be?” first entered my thoughts. The answer, 20? 25? 30 if I’m lucky? It came as a shock. Sure, maybe I’d live another 40 years, to 95, but if so, what would the quality of life be? I doubt I’d be happy to be alive.
Now nearly a decade past that double-nickel birthday, it’s not a pleasant experience to contemplate the time remaining. The years seem more precious, the time in each of them something not to be wasted. I don’t consider myself a hedonist, but I do lean towards doing the things I enjoy most over the things I don’t like to do.
Which brings me to books, and music and hobbies (and my home and a host of other things, which I won’t write about here). I wonder if I’ll have time to read all the books I want to read, hear all the music I want to hear, watch the films, do the painting, sketching, designing, writing, photographing and learning I hope to do.
The books, especially, seem to be a problem. I haven’t read all the ones I have, by a long shot, and yet additional books find their way into the house, a house already stuffed with them. I’m a reader, it’s what I do. I read every day. When I look at the stacks of unread books it seems as if they challenge me. When will you read ME? they seem to whisper. There’s a pressure there, sometimes very, very slight, at other times so palpable the hairs on my arms prickle from it.
Exerting less influence but there nevertheless are the magazines, They pile up – especially the weekly news magazines – while I’m looking the other way and suddenly there’s a stack of them six inches tall: Time, Sunset, Wired, Macworld, Automobile, Quilting, California Gardner, a half dozen others.
Paper and ink, everywhere, unread, whispering… “Read me.”
The music: there are the symphonies, and concertos, the chamber music, all the classical music that’s in hand and yet to be discovered. Sure, it’s easy to hear a 30 or 40 minute piece. But I want to listen to it, get to know it, understand it. That takes time, time I have less of with every birthday.
There are things I’ve wanted to do since I graduated from college. There are things I always said I’d do when I retired. Will I ever do them? I wonder.
Time spent is irrevocable. I can’t go back and try again, do it better. It’s around my birthday that I realize I have to make every minute count, appreciate the time I have, now while I have it.
Talk about pressure.
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