Surviving yet another birthday

When that horrifying day arrived known as my “birthday,” I was delighted to receive two cards from the Toyota dealer — from the service department and the salesman — along with one from my dentist and one from my insurance agent.

Thank God for the service sector. They’re like family. They’re better than family because they don’t fight, and I get something in return for my money.

I’ve reached the point in life when I’d prefer to sleep through my birthday and not have anyone remind me I’m a year older. Needless to say, I hate those felicitous words “HAPPY birthday.”

We all go through a stage when we abhor birthdays, but eventually we grow wiser with age and become grateful we’re going to our birthday party instead of our funeral.

Every year I suffer low-grade anxiety attacks three months beforehand, which prompt me to pick up the pace of my exercise program and sprint like a madman on the elliptical machine in a vain attempt to run from reality. But my athletic performance seems to decline a bit every year.

As an added precaution, I’ll cut down on saturated fat and increase my consumption of fruits, vegetables and vitamin supplements. Then, I’ll go to that RealAge Web site and try to convince myself I’m actually 39. Aging is all about lying — to yourself and to others.

This year, some friends e-mailed me stories on my birthday with headlines like, “Four food fixes that turn back the clock” and “Want to live to 100? Bounce back from stress.” The most troubling was “Senior moments: A sign of worse to come?” which scared me because … what was I saying? My favorite was “Cheery people die sooner” because it gives me a convenient excuse to be miserable.

Then, as sort of a Greek chorus to mark the occasion, I heard tales about friends of friends who are my age or younger and have gotten sick or even worse, passed into the Great Hereafter.

Birthdays are annual reminders of our mortality that force us to look at our lives, our waistlines, our retirement savings and our jobs in a larger perspective, and that’s not pleasant.

Birthdays can leave you pondering life and wondering what you should have done, what you should be doing or what a mess you’ve made of things because you didn’t do what you should have done.

A few of my friends sink into depression every time that fateful day approaches — people of various ages who have emotional meltdowns because they’re not married yet, or they’re not successful enough yet, or they didn’t have kids yet or they had too many kids or … you get the idea.

However, we can’t be terrorized by regrets and anxieties. Life is what it is, and you can’t get caught up in the past or in the future, which means to say you have to keep your feet firmly planted in the present.

In the end, it’s just another day, and if you’re lucky, it will pass painlessly and uneventfully, so don’t be too hard on yourself. (Do I actually believe that?)

 

Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected]

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