Thursday, June 17, 2004

30 and not dead yet.

Wow. 30. Three decades. Since I live in North America, that’s roughly 1/3 of my life span that is now over, if I take care of myself.

For Americans, I suppose we can break down our “typical” lives into trimesters: first 30 years of growth and adaptation, 30 years of prime adulthood and 30 years of reduced activity and declining health. Of course, this model is highly subjective and culturally relative. If I lived in Zambia, I would have lived more than 3/4 of my expected life span already.

As I enter the second of three phases, I don’t feel a sense of loss, but one of purpose. Yes, I am no longer “developing” in the physical sense. I am a shade under 6’4 and am not likely to ever increase in height (though I could potentially decrease later in life). But I AM continuing to develop mentally (having just recently graduated from Texas with a Ph.D., I’m still very hungry for mental stimulation) and spiritually.

So, I guess I’m officially in my “prime” (though my brothers and younger friends might be quick to point out that my “prime” was over at 24).

But as today is my 30th birthday, I am driven to reflect on the concept of celebrating these days. I am normally very tense about my birthday, and usually am not anxious to make a big production out of it. Receiving gifts can be the most stressful part of the equation for me. You see, I think presents are a judgment on a relationship. They are a testament to how well you know and understand a person. And that's why I try to keep from testing people, because it's embarrassing. And because I know that I'm a difficult person to really understand. So I'd normally prefer to just not put people to a test that they are going to find quite difficult.

My parents are adamant about celebrating my birthday. So I usually slink off and let them do it in a mass celebration (of my brother's birthday, mine and Father's Day, and this year we’re rolling in my 5-year-old nephew and my sister-in-law too). And just to get it over with quick and move on.

I know I frustrate them sometimes, because they have no idea what to get me, which is kind of the point.

Until last year, my closest friends in Austin had missed three of my birthdays in a row. Last year would have been #4, were it not for an entry in a palm pilot. I am normally a master at slipping through the cracks.

Christmas is easier to take, because there are traditions and default gifts that make it easier to express wishes without having to display an accurate knowledge of the person in question.

I guess the real issue boils down to the fact that I don't like attention or recognition. And specifically, I don't like to be recognized in public.

Maybe it's really that I struggled so hard with humility in my early 20s. I was pretty … well, cocky, and maybe this attitude about my birthday is one of the leftover controls from that era.

I guess other issue is that I know how much my friends love and respect me. And I don't feel the need to make them express it, because it just comes out naturally in little ways.

But last year was the year I gave in, and I will probably never again be able to slip beneath the radar. This year, they actually caught me by surprise and we had a quiet celebration over dinner (I was very touched).

Don't misunderstand me. I LOVE giving gifts. It's the receiving I'm not too fond of.

I love finding that unexpected something that expresses exactly how I think about a person. It's like a mental challenge, a puzzle that can be solved in many different ways.

Suffice to say I would trade my own "special day" for someone else's. Or maybe if we could spread it out, and everyone would treat me just 1/365th nicer EVERY day ...

But don't get me wrong, I love celebrating other people's birthdays, if only to be able to really tell them how much I appreciate them. Call it a double-standard.


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