Wednesday, March 09, 2011


I am. Today. 'cause it's my birthday. Happy birthday to me.

John Lennon once said that "God is a concept by which we measure our pain". I think distress about aging is a concept by which we measure our happiness about how our lives have gone. If we have lived the lives we wished to, the lives we feel we were born to live, then aging can be readily and gracefully incorporated into a narrative of our own lives and selves. Birthdays are perfectly happy, about nothing but cake. If not --

I'm not feeling very graceful today.

They say "life begins at 40" -- one of those appallingly kitschy, platitudinous lies that people tell us (or we tell ourselves) to reconcile ourselves to unavoidable bitterness: seeing a skull as a smiley-face grin. But like many lies, this one contains a germ of truth: that life is not over at 40. And that life, while alive, can renew itself. Can change course.
"The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our muskrats." - Thoreau

And yes: I feel, strongly, the dark feeling that this, too, is a kitschy, platitudinous lie -- a slightly better version than the previous, but nothing more. More sophisticated propaganda to let us sleep the night. Seeing a skull as a Mona Lisa smile.

But here, I think, is where the wisdom of (a secularized version of) Pascal's Wager comes in. If it is indeed too late, but we assume it is not, what have we lost? Nothing. But if it is not too late, and we assume it is, we have lost everything. In this, the stakes are what matter. Perhaps willing will make it so.
"The desire for a certain kind of truth here brings about that special truth’s existence; and so it is in innumerable cases of other sorts. Who gains promotions, boons, appointments, but the man in whose life they are seen to play the part of live hypotheses, who discounts them, sacrifices other things for their sake before they have come, and takes risks for them in advance? His faith acts on the powers above him as a claim, and creates its own verification." -- James

At the very least, it will go better believing this.

So I'll try again. To fail better, if naught else.

What else is there?

Happy birthday to everyone, whether it's your birthday or not. Pretend it is today. That's my birthday present to you. And you have to take it, as a birthday present to me.

So happy birthday. To you. Today. Right now.

How does it feel to be 40?


Michael A. Burstein said...

Happy birthday!

phosphorious said...

And not just any Wednesday, but Ash Wednesday.

Happy Birthday.