My birthday was this week.
I used to love everything about my birthday. The weather shifting into something drier and cooler, the colors of the trees beginning to deepen, so that on a clear day in October the sky above them looks particularly, brilliantly, blue.
I loved that my birthday always seemed to be at the front of a line of celebrations so that a good quarter of the year was always filled with gifts, love, and levity. I even loved the word October; the eighth month of the Roman Calendar, with its proud round Os, written in pencil in the top right corner of elementary school papers.
And, of course, in my youth I was thoroughly intrigued by birthdays themselves and the somewhat abstract and fantastical idea of a person metamorphosing into the next year’s being. The surreal process of increasing by one overnight.
Lately, however, post-30 and post-children: the time of year is still grand but the day itself leaves me feeling underwhelmed and whatever the opposite of abstract and fantastical is. Concrete and ordinary?
What becomes of a year when so much time is spent in the haphazard ways we mothers are inclined to spend them; the impossible cycle of tidying up, the endless dispensing of love and attention.
I no longer anticipate birthdays. Instead, I fret over them and keep them to myself, walking secretively through the handful of days leading up to them with an ample measure of frenetic trepidation, aware of time not mine.
October 18th is an annual reminder that my hours here are dwindling, slyly slipping around corners and out the back door, into the yard and up into the air. Gone forever.
I spent Monday night with one dear friend and two bottles of wine. We met to discuss projects we are working on but the evening endured its fair share of meaningful digressions. At one softer point, we reflected upon the emptiness we felt after our babies were born, my first and her second. The fog that fell at dusk for two long weeks. I remember myself as though she was not me, overcome by some nameless sadness. I would walk outside and sit at the top of the steps, my back against the creaking screen door, wrapped in the thick, cottony humidity of human mortality.
Thankfully, birthdays and baby blues are not an everyday occurrence. The former I will, God willing, face again, and the latter I am, I hope, past forever. But I am struck by the thought that this is what aging would feel like if we had the time to stop and sink into it. If we carried it around all the time, a giant hourglass. Always bearing witness to even the smallest particles of time falling into a heap of white sand, while mindlessly living our lives.
So, it stands to reason that instead of a time as a physical thing, we were, mercifully, given time only as a concept. And with it we were given all we need to mitigate it. Haste and busyness; a world so bent on devouring our time that we cannot possibly stop to watch it. The rush of the morning routine. Coffee and cupcakes and the Today Show. Spreadsheets and fitted sheets. Nouns and verbs and adjectives. Books to pick up and put down. Champagne, orchids, and crossword puzzles.
We were given the perfect month of October and a couple of days each year to fret about getting older.
We were given anger and angst, jealousy and passion, family, friendship, love, terror and wonder and time, racing by, unnoticed.
And, it seems, we shouldn’t want it passing any other way.