In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.–Abraham Lincoln
I have always found history fascinating. I enjoy watching documentaries, reading textbooks, visiting historical sites, and looking at old, black-and-white photographs. I don’t really know why I am fascinated with the past. Maybe I just like the idea that there was life before I was born and there will be life after I leave. History reminds me that time is never ending. Maybe I like the idea that everything we say and do now will become the memories we turn to in the future for guidance or comfort. Maybe our history is proof that our time hasn’t been wasted, and maybe, just maybe, there was a purpose to our collective lives and consciousness. History demonstrates a solid cause and effect that can be mapped out as life progresses and our drama continues to unfold. History reminds us who we are, where we came from, and the connection we all share to life.
So, if I truly honor past events that have created life as we know it today, why, every year, do I always dread August 21? I don’t enjoy celebrating my birthday for several different reasons. I don’t always like all of the attention. Sometimes, I prefer to go unnoticed. I also don’t feel comfortable accepting presents. I don’t want people to spend their money on me when I know they may be financially struggling. Or maybe…
Okay, to be honest…
I hate celebrating my birthday because I don’t like turning a year older.
There I said it. I hate getting older. It bothers me because I don’t see myself the way other people have started to view me. In my heart, in my soul, I still see myself as a spritely, physically strong, highly capable, intelligent, attractive, young woman.
I’m amazed how many people disagree with me.
I was horrified the first time I was offered a senior discount at the movies. But…but…I’m a young woman! Why would I be offered the discount? My brother, Tony, tried to calm my anxiety. “Jamie, every person who works in retail or fast food thinks anybody over 30 is a senior.” His explanation didn’t help. How did I possibly go from being carded to being offered senior discounts? What happened to the in-between years?
And I almost went over the edge when I received my first offer to become an AARP member. I stared at the letter and magazine in abstract horror before I manically shoved both pieces of literature into the paper shredder.
I cringed in terror when I tripped the other day at work and one of my colleagues stated, “You have to be careful. At your age, you could have fallen and broken your hip.” I was shocked when I was informed by personnel at the school where I was teaching that my health insurance was going up by twenty dollars a month because I had crossed over into the “older age” category. I’m always surprised when websites and applications ask my birth year and I have to scroll further down now to find the date. And just how is it possible that people born in the year 2000 are getting their driver’s licenses now? Why am I looking at the younger generation and saying things like, “Well, when I was growing up, we were taught to show respect…” Isn’t that what my grandmother used to say?
I have tried desperately through the years to prove to other people that I am still a young woman. I buy skin products like anti-wrinkle creams believing that each “magic elixir” holds the secret to eternal youth. I put in hair extensions and dyed all the gray out of my hair. Each gray strand reminded me of each day ticking off my life. I go to the gym constantly and try to convince myself that I am in better shape now then when I was a teenager….if only my knees would stop popping. I exercise and stimulate my mind by reading, writing, and studying…well…history! Why do other people so quickly point out and joke about my gray hairs, the lines on my face, my momentary memory losses, and my thin, frail body?
For these reasons, I have let several years pass by without celebrating my birthday. I didn’t plan on celebrating this year either. I was just going to go to work, go to the gym, and not deviate from my usual day’s routine.
Ignoring my request to let August 21 just pass by this year, my family surprised me with dinners, sweet gifts, nice compliments, and a visit to the Kansas City Zoo. And I was shocked how many people posted wonderful birthday greetings and blessings on my Facebook page. The good wishes were heartwarming and made me feel connected to so many amazing people who had guided and supported me throughout the years. Today, Tuesday, August 23, I received a twenty-dollar bill tucked inside a birthday card from my aunt Nancy in Florida. The card and money made me smile as if I was eight-years-old again…and I think I appreciated the gift more now than I did as a child. I understood the sacrifice my aunt made by sending me the money and I was touched by her generosity. The money made me smile, too, because it reminded me of my mother who also sent money through the mail regardless of the risk of loss or theft. My aunt and mother are women of grace; beautiful, trusting souls who saw the simple good in life, an attribute that only comes…
…that only comes with age!
And that’s when I realize that birthdays are a true blessing! This year, I thoroughly enjoyed the attention I received from my family and friends and loved the birthday celebrations.
I suddenly realized that my birthday really wasn’t about getting older. It was a commemoration of how far I have come in my life. It was a reflection of the connections I have made and the friendships I hold dear. As I went about my day on August 21, I didn’t feel a year older. Instead, I felt surprisingly blessed. I was so thankful for every day of my life and all of the amazing experiences I have had over the years.
Now, I have years of experience and knowledge that only comes with age!
And with age comes a carefree sense of self. I walk around in my pajamas and go out in public without makeup or brushing my hair and I don’t care. I say what I feel and don’t worry if it’s not the popular opinion. I hold on to the things that I like and don’t worry if other people think my ideas are stupid. I sing out loud and dance with spirit even though other people think I have no talent. I hold on to my beliefs and refuse any pressure to become someone different. I try to handle my stress and don’t insert myself into other people’s problems. I’ve learned to live my life free, accepting the person that I am without fear of what other people think of me. I have grown comfortable in the person I have become.
And I know that all of those who offer me the senior discount and fear for creaking knees will not know this until they too have reached the age of “old,” the age of wearing pajamas in public and dancing when there is no music.
I am more of myself today than I have ever been. I haven’t grown old. I’ve grown up by growing strong and growing joyful and growing free. Among the many great presents I have received over the years, I appreciate the gifts of humility and wisdom the most. And this year, I learned that every day is precious and every moment needs to be celebrated. My best birthday gift in 2016 was to see every year as one more blessing.
Though I now have my own unique past, I still maintain my childish heart. I still have dreams and still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. But I also have stories to tell and wisdom to share. I have lived a full life of travel, adventure, successes, failures, heartbreaks, laughter, and tears….
Now, I am older. I have a history….
I am history.