Billy Joel wrote “We Didn’t Start The Fire” to cope with turning 40 back in 1989. It felt pretty significant at the time, and served to emphasize the mythology surrounding the marker. I feel no such need per se, but if my blog post to mark the occasion gets as many hits as he sold copies of the single, I will be satisfied that I have achieved just as much. Insofar as there is such a thing as “defensibly self-serving”, You Are Here.
I turned 40 today. More words have been written, I am sure, about turning 40 than any other of our symbolic ontogeny markers based, I can’t help feeling, a little heliodeifically, on laps around the sun. People usually bemoan the milestone, hand in hand with annoying platitudinous waffle along the lines of “Life Begins At 40” as some act of psychological karmic balancing. I am convinced that if you feel the need to say this, it is not going to work for you anyway. They complain that their life is over, etc, in spite of the really quite obvious diametrically opposed empirical evidence. I always thought I would be the same, but as I got closer to it, I got more serene about the whole thing.
The fact is, I’m glad I’m 40. Oh, there are downsides, like an increasing prevalence of Old Man Noises when getting up or down, general little aches and pains, all the Kids listening to their damn doof doof music (Music? Ha. That’s not music), and an encroaching habit of, when in pharmacies, idly wondering when I will start requiring the bevvy of “assisted lifestyle” goods ubiquitous therein, and even issuing a grateful nod to their existence in a sort of clinical anticipation.
But being 40 is good for a range of reasons.
I have all of the trappings of adulthood we sacrifice so many of our younger years to achieve – a house, a great family, and a pretty decent job. All of the stuff I slogged towards for years – the payoff has happened.
Being 40 confers a feeling of no longer having to fight for credibility from older people. I’ve lived most of my life in a latent self-righteous rage about being ignored or overruled purely because of my age. Rightly so, in all likelihood, for it is oh so true that you can’t put an old head on young shoulders, but that’s very beside the point. Also, being younger is such an angsty thing. I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything, but the self-assurance that comes with the trappings of just a modicum of geriatricity is hard to beat. Nothing beats a bit of seniority. And of course it’s only 15 years now until I get my Senior Discount Card.
The big thing though: I’m still here. I have known too many good and blameless people, my contemporaries, and younger, who aren’t. Life has an attrition rate, ultimately 100%, in the end, but it-only-happens-to-somebody-else stats like the fact that only two-thirds of men make it to retirement age get very real when you see it in action. People may complain about turning 40, but they never stop to think that it’s a whole lot better than that which is the only other alternative.
In short, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.
So. Onward. I think Einstein may have had a point about spacetime not being all nice and linear and organised. Because now-vague and meaningless concepts like 20 and 30 seem to be soooo far behind, and yet 50 and 60, numerically equidistant, seem to be looming gratuitously large on the horizon. But by and large, if from now 80 takes as long to come around as 40 did, I’ll be happy enough.