Shell Shocked: A milestone birthday
I just had a milestone birthday. No, I won’t tell you which one. Just believe me when I say that what I celebrated was fear, anxiety and panic.
As the day approached I kept asking myself the same questions: where did it go? How did I get here so fast? Am I proud of what I’ve done with my life? If I had it to do over again what would I do over again? And of course, the ultimate question: is that all there is?
But the great thing about having a milestone birthday is that you get to share it with so many people – family, friends, neighbors, even curiosity seekers. Somehow when it’s a milestone birthday everyone seems to be aware of it.
I went to the dry cleaner and the gal behind the counter wished me a happy birthday. I went for a haircut and the hair stylist wished me a happy birthday. I deposited a check at the bank and the teller wished me a happy birthday.
I caught a burglar in the act of robbing my home and even he wished me a happy birthday before making his getaway. How did they all know? I wasn’t sporting a tattoo that had the day and year of my birth on it.
I even got a phone call from a girl from the old neighborhood I grew up in. I hadn’t seen her for many, many, many years so the call came out of the blue. Somehow she tracked me down and called me. She knew it was my birthday because she’s the same age, born the same year. The girl from my neighborhood is now a grandmother.
She asked me what I had been doing all these years. I didn’t know how to start. So I told her I wrote a humor column for the Sanibel Islander and that I’d had a home in Sanibel for many years. She was impressed. But when she told me she was calling me from Paris where she has lived after meeting her husband to be there, I, too, was impressed.
As one tends to do on a milestone birthday, we reminisced a lot. We talked about the kids we knew in common who we had grown up with. We threw names at each other that neither of us had thought about in many years. We swapped anecdotes about life as kids. We talked about the naughty things we did that got us nothing but punishment from our parents.
And we talked about friends we had as kids who we knew had left the world earlier than anyone thought they would.
And then she sprung a question at me that I had to really think about. She said: “So here we are knowing that the years fly by and that we won’t be here forever. Forget whatever riches you might have amassed or material things that you possess. What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from life?”
I didn’t hesitate. I said “The most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that when you’ve had a good friend, as you were when we were kids, you shouldn’t let a lifetime go by without staying in touch. I regret that we haven’t seen each other in so many years. We really were good friends.”
There was a long pause. I wasn’t sure what her reaction would be. Finally, she said: “You are so right on. I’ve thought about friends and family so often. They’re both what life is all about. But so many of us tend to forget the friends we had when we were kids. Some people never let go of those friends. Others, like you and me, get older, move away from the old neighborhood and don’t look back. It’s as though having friends when you’re a kid is just a phase you go through.
“Think of the many other people out there who hold on to their childhood friendships. In some cases it’s because they don’t leave the towns and areas where they were born and raised. It seems that when you move away after college that you tend to lose your childhood friends.”
It was then and there that she and I made plans to see each other in Paris next year. And it was then and there that I made the decision to use the Internet to locate and find childhood friends. If milestone birthdays accomplish any one thing it’s to force you to focus on what’s really important. And what’s really important are the friendships you’ve made – your entire life.