by Brendan Beery
I do have a favorite number, which is about the most frivolous thing anyone could have. And I’ve had the same favorite number for decades. If you’d have asked me when I was ten what my favorite number was, little me would have told you, “forty seven.” And here it is.
I always associated that number with the perfect age. At 47, one is not just a grownup, but a veteran grownup. And yet one is not yet old. It’s the sweet spot. Right?
Like most people who reach 47, I look back and ask mostly, what the fuck happened? I behold my own worn face in a mirror and wonder how I’ve managed to become a cliché. It seems that middle age is as predictable as pubescence or old age: we are all doodling on a template called the lifetime. We will all be new and helpless, after which we will all be awkward and unsure, after which we will all be lively and hopeful, after which we will all be confused and beaten down by the relentless and fleeting passage of time, after which we will all circle back to helpless, only old this time. At 47, one has arrived at confused and beaten down.
As depressing as that may sound, I don’t mean it that way. At best, my life has been a comedy of serial disasters. At worst, it’s been a massive shit sandwich. But I wouldn’t trade my life for anyone else’s. My life, after all, is mine. And that alone makes it my favorite life on earth.
When I see my own eyes reflected back to me, I know those eyes have seen too much. But that is, at least in part, why I have some affection for the soul that lurks behind them, which is lucky. I can say to myself what anyone can say to himself, most likely with a knowing smirk … if only anyone knew. They have no idea.
The beauty of every life is that anyone can say that, and it’s always true. We may have written – or drawn – our stories on the same template, but no two doodles are the same. None of us has the same combination of experiences, conditions, and challenges. These unique combinations are what make all our lives compelling. Even our non-experiences have value in defining us.
Some know-it-alls, who think that only their own experiences can render anyone complete, don’t get this. My generation is especially prone to this mindless banality: “You’ll never understand what it is to love until you have children.” If you’ve ever said that, promise right now that you will never say it again. If it took having a child for you to understand how to love, then you are shitty at loving, and I feel sorry for your children. Show me any random stranger who needs a hug, and I’ll show you how to love. It will take around 15 seconds.
To be sure, as a childless man on the wrong side of middle age, I do not fully understand what it’s like to have children. But neither does a parent understand what it’s like to be on the wrong side of middle age knowing that children will never be had. One upsmanship is the fool’s errand when it comes to the gravity of life’s lessons.
What can one do, really, except to keep on going? What can one aim to achieve beyond some small measure of usefulness?
On this birthday, I can say what really matters – the same thing I’ve said on many birthdays before, and the best thing I’ll ever be able to say on any birthday from now on: I’m still here.