It is less than a week away that my 40th circumnavigation of the sun, in my non-fetal, breathing-for-myself form, will come to a close and I will embark on my 41st. Often called the beginnings of “middle age”, this brings a few ideas to mind. But before I continue, there is one thing you should know.
This is not going to be my 40th birthday.
No, in fact it will only be my 10th. You see, the majority of the population of earth have a one in three hundred and sixty fifth chance to be born on any given day (all things being equal and “seasonal human breeding trends” not being taken into account). I, on the other hand am a product of slightly higher odds; one in one thousand, four hundred and sixty one, the additional one being the inclusion of an extra day every four years.
I was born on the arbitrary celestial catch-up date, February 29, which has given me a strange perspective on things all my life.
My parents moved us (my brother and I) around a fair bit as kids, so I remember these moves, the houses we were in, the schools I attended, and to some degree, though vague in recall, some of the people living around our neighborhoods. The first time I realised that my birthday was “special” was the celebration of my fourth birthday, which was actually my very first. I don’t remember the day, the presents I got, the people who where there, but I remember something of it. And rather than remembering my 4th birthday as a thing, I remember it as a time when I realised my birthday was different to others, though only through a quirk in our seasonal rotation in this solar system. (Of course I did not know this at the time, but came to realise this as I grew older.)
What does this mean? Not a lot really, but I attribute this fact, growing up to a curiosity I have had all my life, to be some of the reason I wanted to see past the apparent veil of “truth” as presented to us by people at large. We are told so many strange and wonderful things while growing up, fantasies about rabbits and fat bearded men, about spirits in the woods, about bumps in the night. So many stories, and so many of them we grow out of. But seeing this crack in the curtain of presented reality, almost like a peek through into a world of questioning that had manifested itself in my life fully now, I trace back to being a leap-year baby. Or maybe I’m romanticising this too much, but it did make a difference to my life.
I’m sure not all leap-year babies follow this same path, just as not all people born on June 22nd are lawyers, or lumberjacks, or whatever, but it’s an oddity I have lived with my whole life, and it has prompted me to ask questions. Why did I only get a “real” birthday every 4 years? What was the reason for it? Is there a reason for it? And the questions lead onward toward the obvious which is, of course, more questions. This trend of questioning continues to this very day.
I’m not really “middle-aged”. I put “middle-aged” in quotations because nobody knows how long I’ll live. Will I see 80? Or did I go through “middle-age” at 25, and I’ll only live to see 50? Or will my “middle-age actually be 70, and given new technologies I may live to see 140? Or will I live 900 years like the biblical myth of Methuselah? Probably not, but the term “middle-aged” is just a guess based on how long we have observed humans living on averages. “Middle-age” in Angola is close to 20, while in the USA it’s around 37. Here in Australia it hovers around 40-ish, but women in Australia are expected to outlive their menfolk by 5 years, making the men’s average just under 40 for “middle-age”. If you want to live the longest it would seem that life in Japan is the way to go, with an average life expectancy of nearly ninety, which brings “middle-age” to a whopping 45! I should be so lucky.
All this talk about morbidity and lifespan is not what I’m on about here though. It’s more about what I have come to realise in these 40 years that is important. It’s what has brought me here to where I am that matters, not so much where I am going. Having only one life to live, and one shot at making this thing work, these are realisations that matter to me. Not following a doctrine or a dogmatic stance on the way I should like, love or hate others based on their lives or where they happen to be born, this is what matters. Coming to the realisation that what matters is what I do now, not what I look forward to after I die, this is what matters.
And after all is said and done, what if I’m wrong? Well if I’m wrong, at least I have lived a life that is full of ideas, full of learning, full of the wonders of the universe, full of love for the fellow inhabitants of this great universe, and not one of uncertainties about where I go when I die. For me, death is the only certainty, and hopefully it is still a long way off.
So “middle-age” be damned, it is only a term to help us make sense of our lot here on earth anyhow. For me, I just am, and whatever the arbitrary time-span we have concocted for ourselves over the centuries says, I am only as I feel. I am alive. I am here. And I intend to be so for a lot longer.