Whenever I think of birthdays I think about a line from an old 50’s tune, “You load 16 tons and what do you get? Another day older and deeper in debt” (Merle Travis). According to the Princeton Review, MBA students are prime examples of older students who cannot easily access other means of university funding, and who are expecting significant student loan debt loads once they graduate. As a student who realized my dream of university as an adult, I too look forward to having to pay back a hefty student loan once I finally graduate. Unlike younger students, however, I have limited productive career/work years left during which I will be able to recoup my spendings and pay off my loan. I worry about that loan, even though repayment is still a few years into the future.
But for most of us, student funding and student loans don’t really play a part in the topic of birthdays. Birthdays can be bittersweet experiences. When you are sixteen, you eagerly await each birthday, because it brings you another step closer to becoming a legal adult (with all the privileges and rights that entails). By the time you are sixty, you aren’t all that eager to grow another year older. The years pass by way too quickly. They say time speeds up as you age. A year for a two year old is half of that child’s existence. A year for a 100 year old is a small fraction of a long life.
In between is the halfway mark – 50. As much as it pains me to admit it, I met that mark a few scant weeks ago. It was painful, indeed! It’s hard to imagine being half a century old. It seems like only a short while ago I was a teenager, aching to be 18. I don’t feel all that different inside (although physically my body tells a different story). But I’m halfway there now.
What made things rather special this year is that a few days after celebrating my own birthday, I was privileged to celebrate that of my grandfather – who turned 99! When I asked him how it felt, he said the same thing. It feels no different inside. Once you become an adult in your 20’s, whatever follows after that feels very much the same. You don’t feel the years, you don’t have a sense of being any different. Yet you are. You are another year older, another year closer to finishing your term on earth.
I was feeling rather sorry for myself on my birthday. I anticipated the hour the night before, writing in my diary as the minutes ticked towards midnight. I wondered if it would feel different, if I would somehow sense that I had made this milestone. But as midnight came and went nothing changed. I was the same person I had been last year, the same person I had been ten years ago. I don’t feel older in my mind (although physically I cannot deny the signs).
My grandfather’s birthday party was a special event, one where I and my daughters were able to re-connect with family members from my father’s side that we don’t see often enough. My grandfather is spry and sharp, although increasingly confined to a wheelchair. One of my daughters took advantage of the moment to videotape an interview with him, in which she encouraged him to tell his life story – a wonderful gift that she will be able to pass on to her children.
And what of my own birthday? Well, perhaps out of deference to my sensitivity about reaching this age, and perhaps out of understanding that I don’t have any free time this month to party, my daughters did not plan anything for the immediate moment. They all called me and expressed their love and good wishes, but deferred the celebration. One part of me is hoping they will all forget that it happened, that perhaps somehow if we don’t acknowledge it, I can ignore the fact that I’ve passed the half century mark. The other part of me is resigned and accepting that I’ve now entered the sixth century of life, with many new and interesting things ahead.
The day of my birthday, feeling sorry for myself, on our kitchen whiteboard I wrote the words “50 is very old.” “Very Very Old.” Some days later I noticed that each of my daughters had added a commentary of her own at some point when they had come by the house. One wrote, “and VERY beautiful.” Another added, “and VERY wise.” Another reminded me, writing the words, “99 is VERY old.” Their thoughtful words really made me realize how foolish it is to worry about a birthday. My grandfather has lived twice as long as I; a full, rich life. His legacy lives on in me and my daughters, and we are extremely proud of that. And age brings with it both wisdom and beauty of a very different sort.
Scientists are increasingly linking mental activity and life-long learning to longevity and good health into the senior years. The years pass by all too quickly. If we fill them with productive work, with learning, education and new challenges and achievements – we can stay young forever.
Another day older and deeper in debt, Princeton University MBA:
Debbie is a native Edmontonian, and a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology.