I remember sitting in class one day and telling myself that I couldn’t imagine myself being 30. I tried and tried, but I could only think of myself as a kid.
It’s now three months or so until I turn 30, and I’m freaking out a bit.
Because, you see, turning 30 has always been that a marker of adulthood for me. And adulthood to me, as a weird kid who obsessed over my fear of death, who tried to explain it away by saying it was so far away that I wouldn’t have to worry about it for a long time, meant this existential moment of change. The moment I crossed over from that thing distantly in the future to the beginning of the era of adulthood. The beginning of the end, if you will.
The acknowledgment that yes, I will die. Yes, this is temporary. And there’s no going back.
The worst part of it all is that it didn’t take that long! All this time I said it would happen very far from now. But it just kept coming faster and faster at me, like a flying locomotive. And now that I’m almost there, I can’t help but feel the tug of time pull me ever faster, and I just know that 40 will happen even quicker.
These thoughts were all repeatedly bouncing around in my head the other day when I happened to glance at Facebook. My eyes fell on a status update by fellow blogger Ruchi Koval. She was going on and on about how in three months, she would be turning 40 (40!!!).
But interestingly, she wasn’t freaking out like me. Instead, she was saying things like that she was “grateful” and “happy” to have reached this age. She thanked G-d for helping her reach this milestone. She even said she wanted to count down to 40, every day writing about something she was grateful for.
This was very hard for me to wrap my mind around. Someone, 10 years past me, 10 years closer to death (Okay, the truth is I might get hit by a bus today, but let’s not make this more morbid than it already is), 10 more years of experiences she’ll never be able to experience again! And she was grateful?
This was a weird experience for me, to read that, especially because it was so much on the same timeline as me. 3 months. A decade marked.
And like a mirror, it reflected my own world, it showed me a different way of looking at things.
The funny thing was that until I read that status update, I had no idea that anyone could look at aging as anything other than absolutely horrible, scary beyond comprehension, something to be shoved down into the recesses of the subconscious and ignored.
But there she was, not just happy she was turning 40, but grateful.
It reminded me of another Facebook experience I had (Is this what it’s coming to, by the way? Are all our experiences going to come from Facebook now? If that’s true, maybe a nearby death isn’t so bad). It was a woman’s comment on some picture. I’m sure to most people it just was a brief stop along the ADD highway, but for some reason, it caught my attention.
She was 67. And she was saying how she never stopped living, how happy she was to be that age, how she couldn’t wait to keep on living.
Who was this woman? She wasn’t just turning 30 or 40. She was, like, at Heaven’s Door, and all that. And yet she was freaking happy. GAH!
But something else she said in that comment sparked a memory when I read Ruchi’s status update. I remembered how she also wasn’t just talking about being happy, but about being grateful. I remember she said something like, “Life is a gift.”
And when I read Ruchi’s status update it illuminated that comment. Because I realized that this is really what is missing from my own perpsective. This idea that life is a gift.
There’s this line in the Ethics of the Fathers that goes like this: “Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting.”
This does not, at first, seem like a particularly cheery line.
But it went through my mind in all this, especially when reading Ruchi’s status update. I realized, “Oh my gosh, I’m only thinking about where I’m going. I forgot that I also came from nothing. That this is all a gift.”
And then I remembered one more thing, something that wrapped it all together, the ultimate expression of this truth, the highest wisdom brought down by one of the prophets of our age.
I’m speaking, of course, of Calvin and Hobbes. In it, Calvin and Hobbes are sitting together under a tree. Calvin suddenly turns to Hobbes and says, “What if there's no afterlife? Suppose this is all we get.”
They sit in silence for a moment. And then Hobbes looks up and says with his ever-cheery disposition, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll take it anyway.”
My gosh, do you realize how beautiful that is? My gosh, do you understand the deepness of it?
Hobbes was expressing what is so hard for some of us to see, but which is the only true way to think of life, expressing what Ruchi and that crazy 67 year old both had tapped into: that this is all a gift. That we might’ve just as easily not gotten any of it, that if this is all there is, it is a beautiful amazing thing to have. And as I sit here looking out on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, watching the pigeons flirt and the humans walk around like they know what they’re doing, I can’t help but have one moment, just a second, where I realize how true that all is. That what I have now, in life, from my wife, to my children, to this weather, to my blog, to my job, to just the fact that I can walk around and think and talk and…
It’s a gift. I don’t deserve it. And yet, here it is, all laid out for me.
I wonder how I would feel if I gave a gift so someone and he spent his whole life fearing that it would break, heartbroken over the fact that at some point he would have to separate from it.
I would imagine that’s probably close to how G-d feels when he sees me spending so much of my life fearing things, fearing death, fearing life, fearing living life.
He must shake his divine, metaphorical head and say to himself, “Oy, maybe one day he’ll see how beautiful it all is, what a gift it is. My gosh, I’ll probably have to send him a few more Ruchis and Facebook comments to wake him up. But jeez, I’ll be sad if he wasted so much time trying to hold on, instead of letting go, instead of enjoying the gift.”
Yes, he’ll have to send me a few more status updates, I’m sure, before it truly hits me. But for now, I’ll try to enjoy this glimmer of happiness. Try to embrace, for just a second, the idea that I’m turning 30, that I’m going on this train ride, that it’s all just a gift.
What the heck, I’ll take it.