Well, this is the last night of my 39th year. Tomorrow is my 39th birthday, which means that as of about 8:30-something tomorrow morning I will have spent 39 years on the planet. We tend to forget to include that first year, that zero zed naught year before we started counting, before we were 1, and consider ourselves a year younger than we actually are. But, much as the last century actually ended on New Year's Eve 1998 and the new one began on the first day of 1999, tonight ends the last day of my 39th year, and the beginning of my 40th.
Seen in this light, birthdays are funerals. The death and remembrance of the number that we assign to our age. 365 or so days of saying "I'm 39" when what we actually mean is "I've lived 39 years, plus some-odd days, and will soon have lived 40."
Lately I've realized I'm in the midst of ... well ... midlife stuff. Not a "crisis." That would be the wrong word. A hoary cliche, evoking red sports cars and toupees and scandalous affairs and trophy wives. My biggest cliche indulgence has been buying ... a black Jeep. A car I've wanted for a long time, which I finally gifted myself, but which I bought used to save a bit of cash. Hardly the selfish vain indulgence one associates with the classic midlife crisis. No, it's not a crisis. It's just a ... shift in perspective, I'd say.
But I have to at least acknowledge the vanity of the choice, and what it means. And to reconcile it with other things going on in my life. But still, a Jeep is minor nod to silly typicality in the scheme of things. But I have to acknowledge other things, healthier things, more respectable and less selfish things that at least indicate that there's a significant part of my mind that is looking backward with some longing, forward with some apprehension, and that is trying to make choices that deal with or fight against those things.
Take Tang Soo Do, for instance.
If there's anything I've learned, without question, over the past 9-10 months, it's that this is not an older man's game. Not that I'm old. Nope -- far from it. I can do this. I train, and train hard, 4-5-6 days a week. I work out and practice in the mornings as well, 3 or 4 times, to keep sharp and get an edge where I can. I look to my instructor, Master Nunan, a couple of years younger than me but with some significant mileage on his body, for reassurance and to set attainable goals. Or I look to some of the dan members who are close to my age or older (Mr. Hill in particular, as his training history parallels my own path quite well) and I know I can do these things. 39 is not 60.
But it ain't 18 either, man. And I thank God I found this art now, at the relatively young age of 38, instead of when I was... 48... 58.... I know I work myself harder than I should, harder than I need to. I am too tense, too forceful, all the time. I strain muscles constantly, throwing punches and kicks while my body is tight, and injuring myself frequently as a result. When I was a kid I could workt hrough this stuff, but I've started to realize that I need to pace myself, I need to take a break every now and then to avoid small aches becoming large problems.
But still, it's not as though there's some compulsory element that forces me to train. This is a choice, or at least it was a choice. These days, my training is feeling less like an option and moer like a need. Something I have to do to feel that my days aer complete. Clearly, I'm trying to prove something. To myself, at least.
Recently I've realized that the martial arts attract adults that tend to fit into two general groups: Those that are trying to prove something to themselves, and those that are trying to prove something to everyone else. Typically I find that those who are proving something to themselves tend toward a more jovial, less intense, friendlier attitude toward training, while the ones who are trying to prove stuff to everyone else tend toward the insufferable and obnoxious -- training for lots of these guys (and they're almost always guys) is the physical equivalent of buying a Hummer. After all, I've yet to meet someone who actually bought a Hummer because it's some sort of tough off-road utility vehicle, certainly not the ones that are being sold now. I've never seen one of these H2's or H3's everyone is driving with a speck of mud on their bumpers from going off road or 4-wheeling. Nope -- people buy them because they are trying to tell people something about themselves, and mostly I'd say that that message is an aggressive, almost cartoonish need to scream "SEE? I'M A BADASS! THIS PROVES IT!" at anyone standing nearby. Compensating, I'd say.
I'm glad to say that I am certain I'm not one of those guys, and that I've encountered only a couple of folks that fit that description in the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan. Of course it only takes a couple of them to really give an organization a bad name -- some of the stories I've heard about some TSDMGK member's behaviors at some of the International Tournaments the past few years really makes me question whether I'd ever attend, or allow my kids to attend, one of these events. And we're talking high-level, senior members. People who should know better, and who should set the example for others. People my age.
But again, I don't worry too much about what other people are doing, or why. I'm really doing this for myself.
I remember 11. Getting Blondie's "Heart of Glass" and Meat Loaf's "Bat Out of Hell" for my birthday. On VINYL.
I remember 13, pretending to be Boromir, from Ralph Bakshi's Lord of the Rings (the heavily rotoscoped and animated one), throwing handfuls of darts at a dart board in my parent's basement, visualizing a battle against an orc horde and then acting out his death scene.
15, and kissing Christine, my first love who would eventually become my wife, after a movie date in the backseat of Mike L.'s Jeep. John Cougar (before he re-adopted Mellencamp) singing Jack and Diane on the stereo, playing the cassette of American Fool I'd just bought that afternoon.
So many things, so many events. All run together. Sex. Marriage. Children. Lives and deaths. Friends found, lost, and intentionally left behind. So many moments. They can be like a weight when you start bringing them back to mind. So I'll move on. I am not sad or melancholy on this birthday.
Just sort of ... mindful.
The best image I can think of to describe the feeling is the very bottom of the sun just barely touching the very edge of the horizon. The day isn't over: not by a longshot. Lots of daylight left. But less light than night. I also know, through bitter experience, that we never know how much time we actually have, we never know when the sun actually will set. I've lived six years longer than my own father. Life is precious. Time is a gift. The future, something of a luxury that can't be taken for granted, nor expected. Night can fall ... suddenly.
Anyway, this is not meant to be some dark, torrid rumination on aging. I am a happy man, satisfied with much of my life, thrilled beyond words with certain portions of it. Portions named Christine, Miranda and Trevor, in particular. I want so much to get a big, glorious tattoo of their names over my heart, although I think I might never get laid again if I did so. The idea freaks Christine out. But at the same time, sometimes I want to make them all a physical, permanent part of myself, of my body. To make the point. To declare it to the world.
I am happy with myself, moreso than I think I've ever been. I think, at age 39, I'm finally beginning to understand how to be a man. I've never had any particularly solid male role models in my life, so I've had to try to figure a lot of shit out for myself. And I think I've done a pretty OK job, although maybe it's taken a bit longer than some folks may have preferred. But I am a decent man, a kind man, a good friend, a respectful and caring husband, a reliable and steadfast father. And I am, above all other things, a loving person. I make a point of not withholding my love, nor the frequent declaration of my love, from the people in my life.
Is there room for improvement? Well... fuck yeah. I am not perfect, nor will I ever make the mistake of thinking I am.
But goddammit, I will keep trying to get as close to it as I can.
I've just finished re-reading "The Dark Knight Returns." I'd given a copy of it to Jimmy, one of my instructors at the dojang, for his twentieth birthday, and realized afterward that it had been a solid 10 years since I'd read it myself. So, it was time for a re-read. And in closing I'd just like to say that, while it is a great read and a brilliant comic regardless of the reader's years, "The Dark Knight Returns" is a story for men "of a certain age." What once was thrilling and rousing in a fist-pumping "yeah!" sort of way now, instead, brings ...
... well, tears. Recognition. Acknowledgement. Understanding.
Happy birthday to me.
Mood: Good! Really!
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