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April 28, 2016

A New Decade

Patricia A. Kelly

It’s coming for me. Another big birthday. In fact, as a cruel friend once told me prior to another birthday, actuarially speaking, I’m already there. This one is the one when I officially become old. I’m pretty sure I’m not ready for that.


I’m old enough that the obituaries often feature people around my age. People really close to me have died, and others are experiencing diseases of aging.


My close friends no longer talk so much about their boyfriends. It’s more about their bodies now, and their failure to function properly.


The first really bothersome change of decades occurred when I was approaching 30. I was a senior in nursing school. There were several students older than I, but most were about 20, so young. My birthday came at a time when the most popular catch phrase in America seemed to be, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”


I worried all year about joining another class and becoming an obsolete human being.


On my 30th birthday, I woke up, felt my arms and legs, took a look at myself, and said, “Hey! I’m no different than I was yesterday!” And that was that. Nothing happened, and there were no more worries. What a waste of time spent worrying.


The next big one was the big goodbye to being young, to having more children, and to being someone enough of an object of male attention that I had difficulty getting a man to look into my eyes during conversations. I had always found that problem quite annoying, but I already missed it.


At the turn of my next decade, I decided to do something really special. I invited my girlfriends, my mom, my granddaughter and my daughters to join me for a weekend at Deep Creek Lake, where I have visited for more than half of my life.


My mission, in addition to a weekend sleepover and a marvelous picnic on the shore, complete with beautiful thrift shop tablecloths and delicious hamburgers, was to swim across the lake. Many in my family had done it, but not I. I swam many pool laps to prepare. I had no idea how great the distance, but I knew the water was 70 feet deep. Somehow that seemed different than swimming in a pool.


There was a false start. It happened, delightfully, because some of my girlfriends had misbehaved so badly the night before at a local bar that I was up half the night. Wish I had time to tell the whole story. In any case, I was just too weak to fight my fear.


Dear Ernie, who accompanied me in his boat, gave me a second chance. The distance was less than the laps. The 70 feet didn’t pull me down. It turned out to be a snap. It was one of the best birthdays ever.


This birthday, as short-timers syndrome lurks near my consciousness, as I observe my own and others aging, it’s time for something really special again. I hope, when I awaken on this big day, I’ll find myself, as I did at age 30, not really different than I was the day before. Probably will, actually. One day is only one day.


My first birthday gift will be a tattoo. It will contain a phrase from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Never mind what. It’s a good one.


Second and best of all, will be a trip to the mountains of Colorado, just me and my three children. No heroic feats planned this time, just hiking, cooking, and checking out parks and small towns and, maybe, Denver. Those who love to fly will zip line. Maybe we’ll read books in front of the fireplace.


We’ll be together, just the four of us. We’ll be back to the time when I finished nursing school, and we stopped at the 7-Eleven for a treat of candy to celebrate.


Maybe we’ll just live in the present for those few days.


Maybe I can hardly wait to turn this corner.


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