It’s actually late October, and I’m flying from Denver to Dulles, the first leg in a long journey to Budapest. My friend Ean is flying first class, and he paid a visit to steerage in order to tell me that our next leg, Washington to Frankfurt, is scheduled to take off 10 minutes before we’re scheduled to arrive. He said the pilot is going to let the folks in Washington know we’re on the way. I’m not going to worry too much about it. We’ll get to Hungary when we get there.
He also gave me his complimentary bloody mary.
I drank it while digging through a United “SnackPack,” which is actually better than it sounds. In fact, I think it’s the best thing I’ve eaten on a domestic trip since the last time I brought my own Chipotle burrito on board. For five bucks, I got a tin of tuna, a jar of passable hummus, crackers, a slice of cheese, pita chips, raisins, and even a tiny Toblerone.
So I’m sitting here, waiting for the line to the bathroom to dissipate, and feeling pretty good about things. I mean, my life is freaking amazing, and it’s only gotten better and better in the last five years.
Which is a good way to feel, at my age.
Yeah. My age. I turned 40 at the beginning of October. And though the fanfare was gratifying (my mom and sisters came to visit; we had a massive, roving party; my new co-workers dressed in black and gave me a cake; I didn’t sleep more than 3 or 4 hours a night for almost a week), and counter-acted some of my misgivings about reaching the top of the hill, I’ve still felt pretty uneasy about this chronological milestone.
It’s not that I feel 40. Hell, I’m healthier than most of my friends who are a decade younger than I am—I’m in the best physical shape of my life, I don’t look my age, and I can drink most of them under the table. And knowing my family’s propensity for living a long time, there’s a good chance I’m not even halfway through this journey.
But, damn, the look I get when I tell people how old I am definitely slices deep. It’s a combination of true shock, mixed with pity and just a soupcon of admiration. The “really?” is a not-so-subtle reminder that 40 is still considered by many to be “old.”
Oh, and it didn’t help my outlook this week when I was invited to complete a survey for “young adults” about my local community, only to be disqualified by the second question because the cutoff was 39. Honestly, I kind of felt like crying when it hit me that, 10 days earlier, I would have been a valid respondent.
Everyone says numbers are meaningless, but 40 still has a mythic quality. I can feel it. And though my age doesn’t seem to turn off the sweet, beautiful 20somethings in my life who still, for some unknown reason, want to throw in their lot with me, I can’t help feeling a bit self-conscious when I’m with them and their friends.
I’m not complaining. I am so crazy-lucky to have:
1. A soul-affirming, patient, adorable, brilliant, hilarious 7-year-old who calls me on my shit, but still looks to me as the one who will always be there for her.
2. A family made up of caring, protective, huggy, kissy parents, siblings, cousins, nephews, aunts and uncles, from whom I get my warm nature and a cornucopia of mild-to-medium pathologies and obsessions.
3. A tribe of friends, almost all of who have surfaced and become family only in the last few years, but whom I can count on for unconditional support. This is a big one—because for the first year or so after the divorce, I had no one to call when things got sticky. I’ll never forget my three days of abject misery when I was in too much pain to move from my bed, paralyzed with stomach cramps, finally mustering the wherewithal to drive myself to the emergency room.
4. Good health, a beautiful place to live, a job
5. A life of adventure, full of funny, humiliating, invigorating, affirming, dramatic episodes that act as constant reminders of how blessed these last 40 years have been for me.
But…still. I’m freaking FORTY! I may feel (and act) like a kid most of the time, but I’m really not one anymore. And I don’t want to be one of those old guys in Crocs and too-hip sunglasses who only thinks he’s young-at-heart. Seriously—not to digress, but adult men just shouldn’t wear Crocs. Period.
Anyway, I keep thinking the grownup-guard is going to pull up at any second, in sensible minivans and hoary sweatsuits, to tell me it’s time to put down the martini glass, drop my unlimited text messaging package, and stop watching cartoons when Simone’s not around.
Screw that, though. I’m a better dad because I refuse to give up my youth. I’m a better friend because I’ll meet you at the bar at midnight on a Monday, when you’re on a bender and need some support. I’m a better executive because I can work until two a.m. on a big project and still be at my desk by eight the next morning, ready for the next challenge. And I’m a better writer, too, because I know that the next great story will only manifest itself if I’m open to it.
Which is why I’m not worrying about our connection to Europe. The best stuff always happens when you’re not expecting it.
Wait a minute… is that wisdom borne of age and experience, or a childlike joy in the unexpected?