“We all change over time. Our bodies change, our memories change, and so do our thoughts, feelings, and everything else about us. There’s not a single part of us that remains the same throughout our lives. It’s fairly easy to identify who I am at any given moment. But what makes me the same person now as I will be fifty years from now, when my memories, personality, and ways of thinking my be radically different?” (Nicolas Michaud, “The Hunger Games and Philosophy: a Critique of Pure Treason, 199)
Today, I turned 40 years old. I’m not a fan of my birthday, never have been. I edited my social media profiles and made my birthday invisible. The only people who will probably remember my birthday are my family, long time friends, and all the restaurants that will send me coupons for free food.
Most people don’t guess my age correctly. Maybe it’s my Asian blood, or my years of clean living (very moderate consumption of alcohol, even less intake of tobacco and no illicit substance use), probably my short stature, but I usually pass for late 20s, early 30s at worst. I get carded almost everywhere I go, even to buy root beer (thanks, BevMo!). I’m like our friend Jim Parsons:
Have an early September birthday was difficult as a child, because my birthday meant the start of the academic year (back when school started after Labor Day). In the 3rd grade, our teacher had a Student of the Week feature, where everyone in the class would decorate a special board with pictures and keepsakes. That Student also had to make a presentation in front of the class and talk about themselves. Since the order was determined by birthday, I was the guinea pig that had to do the first presentation. I don’t remember that event as being especially traumatic; I probably talked about Legos and G.I. Joes and the San Francisco Giants, stereotypical 1980s boy stuff. But it was always hard to enjoy my birthday knowing that I had just started back up at school.
My 16th birthday was especially rough, since a few days before, I had my Coming to Jesus moment. While I know realize it as a life-changing moment, it shook me deeply at the time, leaving me confused and unsure of myself. It took awhile before I came to grips with this decision.
My 18th birthday wasn’t much better. I was selected to participate in a special summer program at my university before the start of the academic year. I was the only student from my high school in this program and was extremely homesick. I spent most of my birthday evening in my dorm room with the lights out, while all my new friends were having a good time in the common areas. I did eventually come out to get some dinner, but never told anyone it was my birthday.
Eventually, I got over all these self-defeating feelings and learned to quietly (and privately) enjoy my birthday. For my 21st, my mom took me out to dinner and bought me my first legal drink in the United States, a strawberry daiquiri (my first official legal drink was a beer in England at 19 years old). And on my 22nd birthday, the woman I was dating casually became my girlfriend. (I really only remember that night because earlier in the evening, I watched Mark McGwire break the single-season home run record on TV. After that home run, I met up with her for our DTR. Priorities, people!)
In my adult life, I’ve established a few traditions for my birthday:
- When at all possible, I will attend a baseball game on my birthday. With 2 teams in the Bay Area, usually one of the teams is home. I’ve also traveled on the road to see the Giants play. (This year, both teams have an off day.)
- Even if I don’t travel on vacation, I will take the day off work for my birthday. I believe people should be allowed to take a personal date for themselves on their birthday. I will spend the day by myself, enjoying the solitude.
- If I’m not at a baseball game, I will have a quiet dinner out with my wife.
- Because my brother and his son also have September birthdays, we do a single celebration with our extended family. It’s just simpler that way.
While I haven’t scheduled my first colonoscopy yet, my last annual checkup did lead to some lifestyle changes:
- To deal with high blood pressure, I’m taking medication for that now. It runs in my family, as both my parents take similar medication.
- My glucose levels are higher than normal. I’m not diabetic (though that also runs in my family), I need to be careful with sugars (which means cutting down on sweets).
- My doctor recommends that I lose 10-20 pounds, so I’ve been exercising a bit. Some days it’s walking, others days strenuous activity, like gardening (we have a bunch of weeds to take care of). And this Sunday, I’m running my first 5k race.
- To take care of all these of the previous points, I’ve been trying to eat less in general, and more healthy at times. More salads and vegetables, less fried food and red meat, and fewer portions of everything.
The medication issue isn’t too big of a problem, as I take it in the morning after I get up everyday. The food issue is a little harder, since I love food so much, but I’m making it work. The exercise issue is the toughest for me, as I don’t belong to a gym and am left to my own devices. But I’m trying to get better day by day, which is all I can hope for right now.
When I started this blog and chose the title 80 Is Enough, I was mostly talking about excelling in different areas instead of focusing on a single topic. But I also had the number 80 with this birthday in mind. My new overarching goal in life is to stay healthy, in both mind, body and spirit, until 80 years old. Anymore beyond this is a bonus.
As far as I can control this, all of my major (and some minor) life decisions will be decided with this question in mind: how will this choice help me to stay healthy for another 40 years? If the answers is no, then the conclusion will be clear.
This goal is not purely a selfish one. I believe that to be healthy of spirit includes keeping good relationships with friends and family. If I choose to live my life with consideration only for my body and mind, I could alienate the people around me that love and care for me. I do not wish to end up alone at 80.
Most people may age don’t want to look too far into the future (at least, not beyond retirement age). But I relish the next 40 years, knowing that I have a lot of life to experience, people to meet and knowledge to attain. I am ready to tackle whatever life has to offer, both good and bad. And hopefully I will still be blogging in 2056.