This Saturday – with as little fanfare as possible, in spite of all my best efforts to ignore it, and no doubt very much to the surprise of a few childhood friends who I'm sure never thought I'd make it – I will observe the 50th anniversary of my birth.

Note, please, that I did not say I will “celebrate” my birthday. The word just doesn’t seem appropriate somehow to me these days. I've felt that way for a few years now. I can’t really say why.

A friend once suggested that it could be because there comes a time in everyone’s life when celebrating a birthday seems a trifle childish. Personally I don’t think that’s it. For one thing, it occurs to me that there’s something about actively refusing to celebrate a birthday that in itself seems just a tad childish.

Besides, I've never been accused of being the most grown-up guy in the first place. It's not that I'm immature, necessarily, although my wife will probably tell you that I have my moments. It's just that I've always strived to keep a touch of childhood alive in my heart and in my mind. I still play with Legos, still collect toy cars and the occasional action figure, still enjoy looking at my old View-Master reels. I have a pretty fair DVD collection of some of the cartoons I enjoyed as a kid. Every now and then I pull those boxes of my old comic books out of the garage and re-read them for the umpteenth hundredth time and wish they still made 'em like they used to. (I'm sorry, DC, but your "New 52" just plain sucks. There's just no other way to say it. And the new Marvel stuff isn't any better.) 

From time to time, when I think I can get away with it, I'll even have a bowl of Cap'n Crunch cereal for breakfast. On a really good day I find time to eat my cereal while watching one or two of my cartoon DVDs and relive the glorious Saturdays of my youth. Who says there's no such thing as time travel?

Because of my stint in the Air Force and various other post-high school misadventures, I was some years older than the majority of my classmates by the time I finally attended college. Once, when I made a joking comment to the effect that I couldn't remember ever having been a child, one of those classmates responded that he couldn't really think of me as an adult. It was one of the nicest compliments I'd ever received. I like being a big kid at heart.

In spite of that - or maybe, in some odd way, because of it - growing old doesn't bother me. Much. Okay, yes, my joints creak and pop like a bowl of Rice Krispies. My hair is thinner and grayer than it used to be. I can't eat a lot of the foods I enjoyed as a boy without some concerns of the effects they now have on my gastrointestinal system. But that's okay. The popping joints help keep me from dozing off when I'm watching television. The gray hairs are a badge of honor. And I've found ways to get through the day without the Zero candy bar and big bottle of Dr. Pepper that were a standard part of my daily diet when I was a teenager.

I may like being a big kid, but I also try to keep a positive attitude about this business of growing older. Granted, some days it's easier than others. Especially when I find myself fighting with some new piece of technology that young kids are handling like old pros. Or when the new TV shows are rolled out in the fall and I find myself missing the days of Dick Van Dyke, Andy Griffith and The Twilight Zone. Or when I'm walking past the candy aisle in the grocery store and I hear those Zero bars singing their siren song...

On the other hand, I've reached a point where I can look back with a certain sense of satisfaction at some of the things I've managed to accomplish. I'm still married to my high school sweetheart. I've helped raise two pretty good and decent and honorable sons. I've made a career doing something I like, and while it hasn't made me rich it has left me reasonably fulfilled and there's certainly something to be said for that. I've made some good friends and reasonably few enemies. I've done a lot of traveling, had myself some pretty interesting adventures and for the most part had a pretty good time along the way. 

All in all, not bad for one of the least distinguished members of Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School’s Class of 1981...

For all the trials, tribulations, disappointments, scars, bad risks, stupid decisions, misadventures, heartbreaks, successes and failures, deaths and births that mark my road to date, I can’t complain. I've paid my dues to learning my craft and developing a career, to my hormones and emotions and occasional questionable personality traits, to developing coping skills for day-to-day disasters (Heaven knows there have been more than a few of those, though in retrospect most of them turned out to be not so much disasters than dips in the road), and to watching myself shape my personal evolution from an insecure, headstrong, tightly wound kid to an adult who wishes he knew what he thought he knew when he thought he knew everything, and yet still feels some sense of comfort with his strengths and weaknesses.

Life and knowledge and triumph and hardship have all left their imprint upon my existence. Only now does it feel like I’m coming into something of my own – still possessed of a thirst for learning, a hunger for new experiences and a desire to squeeze in as much living as I can before the curtain falls. 

There’s a great deal that I haven’t accomplished, that I may never accomplish, but I refuse to not at least try. I’d rather have the whole package than sit off in some quiet little corner somewhere, clinging to the safe and the staid and the familiar. I reserve the right to chuckle and smile and joke and cavort and enjoy and experience.

We’re too old, I suspect, when we decide we’re too old...

(Copyright © 2013, by John A. Small)