Good morning. Here are a couple of quotes that are sticking in my mind today:
“How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” (Satchel Paige)
“Don’t just count your years, make your years count.” (George Meredith)
As you might guess from the quotes I chose, today is my birthday. I debated for a while whether or not to reveal that on my blog. My first thought was that my friends who know me well already know it’s my birthday, and the rest of you probably don’t care. Then I thought about how many new friends I’ve made in the virtual world of my bog, and I thought about what kind of message I could write today. And, so, I decided to write about my birthday.
I have a theory about the perceived passing of time. My wife and I were just talking about this a short time ago. It goes like this. When you are young, the distance between annual events like Christmas or your birthday seems impossibly long. The anticipation builds over what feels like an eternity, until the day finally comes. As we get older, time seems to slip by faster and faster with each passing year. People will say that time is getting faster, which we know of course isn’t the case. But our perception of it changes.
When you are 4 years old and enjoying your birthday cake, the idea of your next birthday being a year away represents 25% of all the time you’ve been alive. And it probably represents more like 33% of the time that you actually remember. The difference between being 4 years old and 5 years old is 25%. By contrast, when you are 50 years old, the distance in time to your next birthday represents about 2% of your lived experience. My theory is that it feels like a shorter time because compared to all the time you’ve had so far, it is.
My birthday last year seems like it was 5 minutes ago. But the fact is that much has changed in that time. As I was writing yesterday, my image of self has changed dramatically. That change in my attitude about myself lead to a transformation in my actual appearance. Today as I am writing this I am 108 pounds lighter than I was at this time last year (pending the outcome of my weigh-in tomorrow). But it isn’t just about weighing less. I feel somewhat transformed as a person.
In addition to weighing less, I am in better physical condition than I have been in many years. Even back when I was still playing softball I never felt this good. Even when I lost weight in 2001, I don’t remember feeling this good about myself physically.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still have aches and pains. Just the other night I was sitting and reading a book and inexplicably my knee started to hurt. I had been sitting for a good 30 minutes, enjoying my book, minding my own business, and there was Mr. Knee popping up to say hello. I rubbed it a bit, and within a few minutes the pain disappeared just as inexplicably as it arrived. That is life in your 50s right there. Shtuff just happens for no real apparent reason.
As I said, it is about more than just pounds and inches. I feel better than I have in years. My mental attitude, my confidence, and my optimism are all at highs I haven’t felt in a long time. I still have those days from time to time when they ebb – who doesn’t? – but those days don’t ebb so far, and come less frequently.
The quote from Satchel Paige is one of my favorites. For those unfamiliar with his name, Satchel Paige was a baseball pitcher in the 1930s and 1940s. He played most of his career in the Negro Leagues, before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in the Major Leagues. When he finally did come to the majors he was past his prime, but still effective. He helped the Cleveland Indians to their last (to date) World Series win in 1948. He was a bit of a enigmatic character, and part of his enigma was that no one quite knew how old he was.
His quote speaks to me this morning. If it weren’t for a number on the calendar, would I feel older or younger than I did last year at this time? And just how old would I feel? My balky knee (which apparently doesn’t like being written about because it is hurting right now for no reason), would tell me that I am not a spring chicken. But my heart and my soul would sing of me being indeed young.
The quote from Meredith also speaks to me. It is a part of our culture to celebrate birthdays, and to count the years. My wife even got those nifty candles that look like digits (so we don’t attempt to burn down the house with 53 candles). Tomorrow night when we light them up I will have a reminder of just how many of these celebrations there have been. But Merideth is right. It’s not about clicking off the years like I am counting up shoe boxes, it is about making each one count.
I cannot say with honesty that I have made every year count. I have not always had a good attitude about the passing of time, and I have spent some of my years just clicking along. I think I have written about how much I dreaded turning 49. If not, I will someday. But I made a commitment to myself, and wrote about it here, to make every day matter. Since making that commitment, I would say that I’ve been successful at keeping that attitude about 95% of the time. I still have those occasional vegetative days, but not so often.
Today I am 53. That happens to be a prime number (hence the headline), and I think I am truly primed for having a great year. I have ambitious goals for myself this year in all parts of my life. I intend to make this the best possible year for myself, my wife, my family and my friends. The best is yet to come.