I turn 35 this week. Yikes! I am not sure how it happened. Well, I know how it happened but I am more surprised how quickly it happened. Three-and-a-half decades on earth.
Part of me still feels like a kid. I still look at the world with a curious mind. I love sports and ice cream and staying up way past my bedtime. My dream job is still to build large Lego displays all day.
On the other hand, I feel like an old man. I am an old soul to begin with, but this disease has only exacerbated my curmudgeonness (curmudgeoneity?) Staying up way past my bedtime now means going to bed at 11:30. One beer and I get a massive headache. I can’t name any song past 2015. That sort of thing.
But most striking, I feel like an old man because I actually feel like an old man. My body, once able to win hurdles races and walk for miles around Boston without breaking a sweat, is now in constant pain. I can no longer walk, and can barely stand, with assistance, for more than a few seconds.
This has been hard to reconcile with my age. 35, going on 85.
I’ve packed a lot into 35 years. Looking back, it’s as if I have lived several lifetimes in one, with distinct beginning and end periods separating the different phases of my life.
My childhood as I knew it ended on 9/11. I was 14, a sophomore in high school. I was home sick that day. Shortly after 9 am, I got a phone call from my mother imploring me to turn on the TV, and proceeded to watch for the next 48 hours, horrified yet unable to turn away. That day shattered my sense of security and changed how I viewed the world forever.
Two years later, October 2003, was the car accident that led me on a year-long diagnostic odyssey that culminated in a diagnosis of limb-girdle muscular dystrophy. I had just turned 17, was a senior in high school at the time, and struggled to understand how I could possibly have a muscle disease. I felt fine. That accident was the demarcation point between disease-free living and everything that came after.
Fast forward two decades. 2020 and 2021 have marked the end of young adulthood. Now I’m a real adult. These last two years have been a bear. You don’t need me to tell you why.
35. I have reached an age where I’ve accumulated an abundance of knowledge and wisdom, which is to say, I have knowledge about the limits of my own wisdom. The more I learn, the less I realize I truly know about the world. I am struck by how little we as humans truly know about anything, and how everything is interconnected and interrelated beyond our comprehension. I have learned what I can control, and what sits outside my circle of influence. There are no quick and tidy answers to our problems, despite everyone trying to convince you otherwise.
Every year around my birthday, I take stock of my life. I see where I’m at, and if I’m still headed in the right direction towards my future goals. This year, I don’t know what to feel. Perhaps it’s the pandemic blunting my enthusiasm for the future. It certainly feels like an easy culprit. I find that, more than feeling up or down, I feel both up and down simultaneously. I am a contradiciton.
I can’t say I’m thrilled or scared to be turning 35. It is what it is. Turning one year older doens’t elicit the same reaction it did when I was younger. 35 is one more than 34, and one less than 36. We are lucky to live in a time when we can readily find examples of people accomplishing goals and tasks at all ages. If you haven’t accomplished something by a certain age, take heart, because that doesn’t mean you’ve missed the boat on life. Which is good, because there is still a lot I have yet to accomplish.
Despite knowing that it’s not too late for me to get married, buy a house, have a family and settle down, I still feel angst. Despite all that I’ve accomplished, which should give me a degree of confidence and perspective on what I am capable of, I always focus on what I haven’t done. But age isn’t the issue for me; strength is. My disease has only heightened and magnfied long-held insecurities about what is and isn’t possible. As I weaken, I can’t help but feel that life is only going to get harder.
I am gulity of dwelling on the past in down moments. I think often about 2019, how I got to attend and speak at several conferences throughout the country. I spent a week in Boston and a week in DC, and it was amazing. I got to experience it all with my parents, who have supported me every step of the way. I met people from all over the world.
I had several more conferences and trips planned in 2020, including to Boston, to see my friends. Then COVID hit, and, yeah, none of that happened. I haven’t seen any of my Boston friends in person since January of last year. I hope they still remember me.
There are days when I feel like I have become a full-fledged hermit. There are days when I forget what I did in my past life, because all the guideposts signifying the passage of time in life – leaving the house, going to work or school, socializing, I haven’t done in 18 months. But life continues, whether or not I find it easy to play this hand.
If there’s been one benefit to this new COVID world, it is an increased societal understanding of the need to be mindful of our surroundings, and to value each and every moment we are given. Life throws so much at us, but all we can do is take one moment at a time, and live it to the best of our abilities. That’s all we can do, but so often we try to take on the enormity of life all at once, and it beats us down.
For me, this has been one of the most important lessons of the past two years. I was throwing myself into so many activities – work, conferences, writing, speaking, mentoring, keeping tabs on current events, etc., that I would often wear down mentally and emotionally (physically is a given). I needed to learn to slow down, and take in each moment. In doing so, I have learned to anchor in the present, and build a foundation of peace and calm. It has saved me, because this life isn’t getting any easier or less crazy.
I have said this many times, but I have a great support system. The 3 F’s: family, friends, and faith. I wish I didn’t have to rely on my parents so much at this age, but I’m glad a) they are still around (not a given after last year) and b) they have been willing and able to help me. I sometimes suspect they’d do more without me – dad would definitely go fishing more – but I get the sense that I haven’t yet overstayed my welcome, which is good. (If my dad starts to up my rent then I probably should get concerned.) I also have good friends, which I appreciate. They have been with me through thick and thin, and I still rely on them, even if I can’t see them in person. And faith, well, without God none of this would be doable.
I don’t know what 35 holds. It probably will have its difficulties and joys. I’m just glad that, despite the ups and downs, despite the setbacks and successes, I’m still around to write about it. It is an honor to reach this age. It is not a given.