Living Through History Is No Birthday Party
Laughing Stalk syndicate
Today, I had the awful realization that I'm turning 43 next month. It's awful for a couple of reasons, mostly because I will no longer be 42.
"Well, duh, Erik. That's because 43 follows 42."
It's not actually turning 43 that bothers me (okay, it bothers me, but more on that later.) It's that I've liked being 42. It's a magical age. It's a fun number. It is, as any fan of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (the greatest science fiction novel ever) can tell you, the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.
I will no longer be the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.
This saddens me greatly, because I used to take particular geeky delight in telling people that's how old I was.
"How old are you?"
"The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything."
If the other person got it, if they had read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" (or H2G2 as the really cool people call it), they were rewarded with a beaming smile and some congratulatory well-wishes on their total awesomeness as a human being.
If they didn't get it, I told them my real age, and then talked about them behind their backs.
Seven years ago, I was happily chugging along, living in My Thirties. I was minding my own business, not bothering anyone, just being in My Thirties. It was a glorious decade, and one I look back on with great delight.
I capitalize My Thirties, because they were a nice big plateau of aging. Sort of a personal dynasty, like China's Ming dynasty or Hungary's Habsburg Dynasty. My Thirties was a time of great prosperity and gentle settling around the land. (I call my upper body "the land." That's what happens when you're in your Thirties.)
The great thing about being in My Thirties was that it didn't matter about birthdays, because the years didn't seem all that different — 33 was like 34, which looked just like 35. And 36 wasn't a whole lot different either.
But when I turned 40, disaster struck. Now, I was no longer in My Thirties, I was in My Forties. Things started settling at an alarming rate, and there soon followed some grumbling and strife from "the border lands" (my knees).
It's because the decade number changed. The number in the tens column of my life had just gone up by one tick, and it was going to redefine who I was for, well, ten more years.
But that feeling only lasted for a few months, and I began looking forward to 42. And it's been a great year. A year I would like to repeat. I would gladly pay whoever is in charge of aging if I could just be 42 for another year.
What made me think of all this today, though, was the realization that not only am I over 40, I'm almost ready to start remembering things that happened 40 years ago.
Right now, at age 42, I don't remember what happened 40 years ago. Muamar Qadafi became the premier of Libya 40 years ago. National Public Radio and Monday Night Football premiered 40 years ago. And the Apollo 13 crisis took place 40 years ago.
I don't remember any of it, because I was two.
But we're reaching the point in history that I will remember what happened back then.
Pretty soon, someone's going to say, "do you remember the Watergate scandal in 1972?" and I'll be able to say "yes, a little bit."
"That was 40 years ago," they'll say in 2012. I'll be 45.
"Do you remember when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford to become president in 1976?"
"Oh sure," I'll say. "I remember watching the results on TV."
"That was 40 years ago," someone will say in 2016, when I'm 49.
Becoming 43 is not nearly as emotionally devastating as knowing that I'm quickly reaching the point where I saw, heard, and remember things that happened four decades ago.
That's four-tenths of a century. It's 4 percent of a millennium. My distress is not that I have lived that long. It's that I have lived long enough to remember things happened that long ago.
Not to worry though. I'll soon get over it. I always do. I'll relax for a few years, and then I'll start worrying about what will happen when people say, "Do you remember when Janet Guthrie became the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500 in 1977?"
That's going to bring a whole new level of panic.
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