The Optimist’s take on a birthday: A day younger than tomorrow. That assumes my tomorrow will come, the uncertainty of which gives credence to the Philosopher’s take: Live for the day.
Today I’m in search of a word that means the mixed feeling of relief and surprise one has on realizing an outcome or goal. At 62 my thoughts drift back to that early winter night, a young me in the passenger seat of a chopped Nova tricked out with ultra-wide racing slicks, the invisible black ice on the overpass, that feeling of the back end letting loose, fish-tailing wildly – left, right, then left again – before magically correcting and then we were off the overpass back on the frontage road like nothing had happened. Even as I turned to look at the driver, my friend, to see if he felt like I did, that what had just happened back there could have gone very badly for us, knowing full well there was no way that silly little guard rail was gonna stop no two-ton Nova douhnuting out of control from flying off the overpass and smashing on the road below. When finally he turned to look at me his eyes were like two full moons – I could have been looking in a mirror. One of those rare times between friends when no words need be spoken, he knew what I knew.
These are the close calls that give parents gray hairs to hear retold. And I’ve had others over the years, hasn’t everyone? Certain times when the laws of probability might have broken left instead of right. And some close calls we’re not even aware of. I sometimes remark in mixed company when the discussion turns to lucky breaks and getting old that we’re all one cell division away from our next birthday not arriving. Replicating 23 pairs of chromosomes every time a cell divides need go wrong just once to get the big-C going. But DNA replication mistakes aren’t something you experience happening. Multiple sclerosis afflicts many people, although the typical decades of onset for this disease are your 20s or 30s. Not that you’re out of woods in your 40s, but that’s roughly when the law of probability starts to bend in your favor, when you’ve dodged another bullet. The list of close calls goes on.
Still, it remains true that the strongest correlate for no more birthdays is age. There is no better predictor. So live for the day and don’t skip on the treats. I famously like to remind people (as HW would tell you 🙄 ) – “Don’t forget, half the people on the Titanic turned down the dessert tray!”