Holden Caulfield influenced my personal philosophy back in the day, guiding my last teen year and the first half of my twenties. Birthdays back then represented nothing more than sequential numbers that only impressed my parents. I started frequenting bars before turning twenty-one, because the way I carried myself—cigar, shades, sport coat and attitude—validated my persona as an agent provocateur, hence my twenty-first birthday came and went without so much as a whisper.
Turning thirty didn’t plunge me into depression, and I may have overlooked that birthday in hindsight. Likewise, I don’t recall having made a big deal over my fortieth birthday either, however I do remember my joyous celebration of arriving at the half-century mark and the glorious feeling of having reached the top of my career. Reviewing birthdays after fifty doesn’t summon stirring memories, as if I had failed to notice the ominous actuality of passing fifty, that from then on honoring familial obligations would take me down an unfamiliar road.
I’m bearing down on birthday six-zero this year like a Japanese Bullet Train and, if you want to know the sobering truth, the idea freaks me out. Turning sixty doesn’t feel like a milestone to me, instead it feels like a tombstone standing at the ready. The thought of looking at my fifties in the rearview mirror terrifies me, twisting my stomach into knots, leaving me with a bitter old feeling. I’m ashamed of my health and physical condition when I spot a man who sports a lean and mean body, only to discover he’s in his seventies. I’m pathetic—I know—but I didn’t invite you to my pity party.
Why does turning sixty scare the holy crap out of me? Because the interval between now and death shrinks as a matter of fact, a ruling of nature that I can’t appeal. To quote a phrase from a Bob Dylan song, “That long black cloud is coming down.” The image of my younger self, a rebellious man riding a Harley with poetry books and writing journals stuffed into saddle bags, fades like an old Polaroid print sitting at the bottom of a tattered shoebox. Remnants of those hog-wild years exist in journals, in sentimental and self-indulgent poetry, and in philosophical stories of a wanderer hell bent to prove On the Road was the real deal.
Reality, its precarious position inside my head, illuminates what I already know, that excessive ponderation on my mortality eats away at time, time best utilized for purposeful pursuits, such as the obvious activities that make the aging process less foreboding, like losing weight, exercising, learning new subjects and resurrecting old passions left behind. I know people over sixty—some no longer walk above ground, while others lament over regrets or live a contented life, and a few create new worlds to explore, populating them with mysterious characters who harbor hidden agendas and conceal secrets kept darkly under the bed with who knows what else lurking among the dust mites.
I’ve illustrated a subjective observation of how I’m coping with the aging process, and I offer no apologies for ranting on about a natural progression of the human condition. Perhaps, I’m one of those individuals who enjoys sharing elements of humanity with other like-minded souls who also find themselves on an unfamiliar road, regardless of the traffic conditions. After all, one dear friend on the same road trumps none, right?