In light of my upcoming fortieth birthday, I’ve decided to sit down for a few moments and reflect on what it actually means to be forty – or if it actually means anything at all.
On Turning Forty – by Matt Croyle
To everyone who is under forty, I am now going to be “old.” Isn’t that the case, or at least how you’ve always felt when looking at someone who is forty? They’re old. Well, if that means I’m now going to be “old,” I should probably learn to embrace that fact.
It’s not easy to welcome, I can tell you that, but it’s inevitable to anyone who has actually survived their teens, twenties, and thirties. There were honestly times when I didn’t believe I would. When you’re a teenager or twenty-something, you’re indestructible. You did all of these crazy, out-there things because half of us at that time hadn’t really learned what real loss was yet. We heard about people dying from doing a bunch of stupid shit, but half of us never had anyone close actually go out and die from some dumb activity that resulted in tragedy. We may have heard about a friend’s friend who got killed by a drunk driver, or that one kid at school who blew his brains out, or that girl who overdosed, but for half of us it didn’t touch us – and so we did stupid shit that only the innocent, fearless ones did. How we survived, I’ll never know.
In our twenties we loved too easily, and we’d take things for granted way too much. We were worried about what society thought of us, what our family’s view of our own choices was, where we would be in ten or twenty years according to some grand plan we had for ourselves, and we never really learned that those things could hurt us. So much of our lives are spent on worrying about how we’re viewed by others, and for others, that we never really learn who we truly are.
Somewhere in here, some of us have children and some of us don’t. Some of us get married, and some of us never will, and some of us failed miserably at it.
Our thirties is a time of reflection, a time to look back on our twenties and wonder why that marriage didn’t work out, or why we turned down that job in Boston, or why we didn’t take a chance on that person who really wanted us – and as Vonnegut would say, “And so on.” For most of us our thirties hold those ever-important times where we’re truly disappointed in some of the choices we’ve made, or have failed to make at all.
It’s all different – life – for each of us, of course, as we come from a variety of backgrounds, geographies, cultures, and socioeconomic upbringings, but there’s something about living in America, from the latter part of the last millennium into the early part of this one, that binds us with similarities in our lives. I think it’s up to us to reach out to one another when we see those commonalities, because if we don’t then we miss an opportunity to connect to someone, anyone, anywhere, at all.
So, now I’m turning forty, and now I look back at this from the middle – and I say “middle” because I once wrote that we get eighty years on this planet if we’re lucky, and that’s totally true. In 2017, this year, the projected life-span of a white American male like myself is only seventy-six years. By those calculations I have more behind me than ahead of me. So, what does that mean? For me it means the following:
While it’s not difficult for me to connect with someone a decade or more younger than me, I do find that I have a slightly different perspective than they do – one I just stated: There is more of my life behind me than in front of me. To someone in their mid-twenties or younger, the possibilities ahead of them are endless. Anything is possible. Anything can be achieved. Why? Because they have time to be patient, time to figure it out, time to do it all. They have time to get done what they “plan” on getting done. Me? I’m just going to go do what I plan on doing. I don’t have time to waste. I wanted to make a movie, so I made a movie. I wanted to launch a film festival, so I launched a film festival. I wanted to express how I felt, so I shouted it to the world to hear.
These decisions are a product of perspective that one can only have by embracing their mortality, knowing that life could stop at any moment. At forty I don’t have the luxury of making long-term plans anymore, because I’ve ultimately learned that plans never go exactly the way you want them to and they’re never set in stone. You cannot predict the outcome of anything in your life, and that’s what makes it so scary, and exciting, and worth every extra second you can get.
I’m very sad to say that neither of my parents are alive to see me reach forty, as I think that they would have gotten a kick out of how hard I’ll surely take it.
I had a conversation with my father about a year before he passed away, and we discussed at length about self-perception as it relates to age. He explained to me that when he looked in the mirror he didn’t recognize the person staring back at him. He felt like himself, he knew he was himself, but he just didn’t look like himself anymore. He saw this old man looking back at him, someone he didn’t recognize. And in some ways I feel the same. In some ways I still feel like that fifteen-year-old playing baseball, or that twenty-four year old on his wedding day, or that twenty-eight year old watching his son being born into the world, or that thirty-seven year old releasing his first feature film, or that thirty-nine year old rediscovering that he’s actually able to love again after years of bottling up his emotions.
I will continue to be those people, that person, but I think it takes accepting I am ALL of those things that makes forty not seem so bad after all. This birthday, for me, will be a celebration of the many times I’ve started over in my life when plans never went as expected, a celebration of the many roles I’ve played in this life so far: Son, brother, husband, father, friend.
I want forty to be a rebirth, a new me, a new chapter, a new story. One that doesn’t waste passages or words, one that moves people, and one that finds a way to move toward an ending that eventually resolves. And I think if we all see it that way, then forty doesn’t have to be scary. It just has to be us.
Copyright © 2017 Matt Croyle. All Rights Reserved.
Well, my son is a year old today, and I just want to wish him a happy birthday. Trying to imagine what it must be like for a one-year-old is like trying to imagine living on Pluto; because nothing really makes much sense except for love. That’s all I can really imagine him truly understanding. Sure, he can take the fork from my hands and feed himself, he can get scared at loud noises, and he laughs so much, but I don’t think he really understands why he’s doing these things. However, he knows love. And he knows why he loves his mom and me, but he’s just not able to put it into words yet. That’s amazing.
So, I’m very proud of him, as he’s now beginning to walk across the room and attempting to shake his head ‘yes’ when I ask him if he wants a drink of juice. If you’ve never been around a baby who is developing: it’s truly remarkable to see even daily progressions in the way their minds process information. Each day, it’s as if something a little more seems to just click in their minds, and they say, “Oh! I see!” I try to imagine what it was like for myself to go through that process, however that was about thirty years ago. I’m having a small problem recalling those moments. Perhaps we don’t develop a long-term memory for quite some time during our brain’s development. I’ll have to do some research on that.
Anyway, so here’s my note to my son, Declan, on his first birthday:
‘Happy Birthday, Declan. Mommy and Daddy love you. We can’t wait to hold conversations with you, and attempt to remember algebra to help you with your homework. There are so many things to look forward to. But, we’re proud of you now, too. Everyday, you make us more proud; and everyday we love to laugh with you. Everyday, we hold our breath, because sooner than we realize, this will all have gone by so fast. We love you, Big.’ Love, Daddy.