Next to Christmas, my birthday was the best day of every year when I was a boy. I liked the presents and the fun, of course, and having a cake. I always had the same one – German chocolate with coconut-pecan frosting on the top and middle, and whipped cream around the side – my very favorite. Yes, it was a great day, but great days always come to an end and the next morning, the reality sunk in that it would be a whole year before another birthday came around.
And a year was a long, long time to me back then. I was just itching to put childhood behind me and be a grown-up, so I could drive and travel to England (English history always fascinated me), and stay up as late as I wanted and not have to come inside just because it got dark.
My 18th birthday eventually did come and did pass, but afterward something seemed to change. Time seemed to speed up, and the years and the first milestones of adult life – buying a car, college graduation, graduate school, my first apartment – slipped by quickly, like road signs on a highway drive, until this year when I arrived at 55.
Birthdays have stopped being a big deal to me (I haven’t had a German chocolate cake in years), but this year it was more revealing. Being 55 made me suddenly see just how few are the years that are left, giving me a sense of urgency about how I use that time. Now I see more certainly that I can’t, like when I was a boy, think of the years as something that can be thrown away while I wait for things to be what I really want. I don’t have that luxury. The options for what I can do are now limited.
I had planned to visit all 50 states, all the national parks, several European countries, and Australia, and to cap it all with a year-long trip around the whole country when I retire, but my new awareness about time put me in a dilemma. Just how much will I be able to get done? And which of these goals will have to take priority now? And what can I afford as I prepare for retirement?
I’m having to re-think it all and to let some things go, which isn’t easy, but I am grateful that time showed me the value of time and the need for the discipline and focus to make the remaining years as interesting as they can be.