The trouble with birthdays, those that come after age fifty, is that they come around all too quickly. That and, sometimes, you have to do the math when someone asks you what number it is. I think that’s because, after forty, birthdays are no longer about accumulating numbers; and after fifty they’re more a celebration of life than numbers.
I remember the eve of my tenth birthday. It was all about the accumulation of another number—a very special one. I had a difficult time falling asleep that night. I was convinced I was going to wake up the next morning to, somehow, feel different. After all, I was about to enter my second decade of existence. I was adding another digit to my age. I was so disappointed to roll out of bed the next morning to find nothing about me had changed.
What is it about getting older that leaves us feeling that time is picking up speed?
I recall the Detroit Tigers winning the World Series in 1968. It was their first championship since 1945. That seemed a long time ago to me; but since I felt, being a boy of eleven, that nothing of much importance happened in the world before my arrival, I gave it little thought.
The Tigers won their next championship in 1984, sixteen years later. I was twenty-seven and it seemed an awfully long time since their previous championship in 1968.
Their next appearance in the Fall Classic was 2006, losing to the team they beat in 1968—the St. Louis Cardinals. Well, not the same team; but the same team that represents the city of St. Louis in the National League. Yet those twenty-two years in between seemed a flash. I remember the ’84 season as if it happened just yesterday: the 35-5 start; Sparky Anderson managing; Trammell and Whitaker playing the keystone positions; Lance Parrish behind the plate; Kirk Gibson’s heroics; Jack Morris twirling a no-no against the White Sox, and more. The Bless You, Boys, season, it was filled with magical moments.
But all things flow, nothing abides, at least according to Heraclitus (and he was much wiser than me).
Sparky passed away last year, and this past summer the Tigers honored him before a game with the Arizona Diamondbacks, a team now managed by Gibson, with Trammell as his bench coach. I mourned the loss of Sparky, but mourned, too, the 1984 Tigers. Several players from that championship team attended the memorial, a couple even spoke. One or two I failed to even recognize.
These were once the boys of summer.
This year, the Tigers again made the postseason, falling short of winning the America League pennant. The math now shows it’s been twenty-seven years since their previous championship.
Doing a little more math, I find that’s precisely half my life.
Looking in my mirror, I realized that twenty-seven years ago I was in my twenty-seventh year. I had fewer gray hairs, weighed ten pounds less, and was married. Ronald Reagan was president and the Iron Curtain had not yet fallen. The CD was on the market, but having gotten burned on the quad eight-track fad of the late 1970s, I would hold off buying a CD player for a few more years. The Internet had not yet been born, and talking on the phone meant being tied to a wall by an eight-foot cord. A cable TV package could be had for less than ten dollars a month, and the average price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was $1.21.
It’s true: when you’re young minutes seem like hours, hours like days, days like weeks, weeks like months. When you’re young, life is composed of a series of I can’t waits. I can’t wait until I can drive. I can’t wait to kiss my first girl. I can’t wait to get out of school. Like the watched pot that seemingly never boils until you leave the room, the anxiety of waiting seems to slow the movement of the second hand. Believe it or not, I still have three clocks in my house that have second hands.
But somewhere along the line—shortly after I realized that, like the sun, I’d reached my zenith in life and was now slowly sliding toward that horizon I’d always seen as ever distant—time sped up. My parents told me that would happen; but I didn’t believe them. I was young and thought I knew it all. Looking back, at twenty-seven I was supposed to see my whole life in front of me. But all I saw was fog.
Now, the seasons pass quickly and, once again, my birthday is here.
Maybe it’s because I have more years behind me and fewer ahead: I can see my destination more clearly, because it’s closer. Like approaching a mountain by car—I can maintain the same speed, but the closer I get, the faster that mountain seems to loom up on me. As my time draws nearer, I realize I can wait. I want to wait.
I read a book recently on whether the Mayan calendar ending in 2012 actually spells the end of the world, and it was put forth that time is indeed speeding up. I’m not sure I buy into that though; after all, a minute can only be a minute, right? I mean, X-mo can slow a 95 mph fastball down so that it looks as if it takes five seconds to reach the catcher’s glove; but it doesn’t really give the batter any more time to recognize the pitch and pull the trigger because his thought process and reaction time are also slow as molasses.
I won’t pretend to understand Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, which states that time slows down the faster one travels; but if Albert’s theory is true, then it all makes sense: the older I get, the slower I move; therefore, the faster time moves.
But how about the sand in an hourglass? The sand moves at the same rate; but when the upper bell contains the majority of the sand, the passage of time seems slower. And when that upper bell gets low on sand, it seems to empty more quickly.
But with a birthday coming up on Friday, maybe that’s just a perception on my part. There’s still sand in the upper bell, but less and less each year—but then, that’s always been true.
The key to birthdays, especially after fifty, is to not look at them as an accumulation of another number, but instead as a celebration of life.