August 13, 2022, Lake Havasu City- One by one, friends of a young man whom I have known for about three years came filing through the door of the home he shares with his father, in this desert community overlooking the Colorado River. It is his thirtieth birthday. He allowed as how this was the biggest birthday bash he has ever had-and I would not have missed it for the world. He sees today as a confirmation of his change in mindset. This was bolstered by going around and asking each of us what one piece of advice we would offer him.
I admit, I don’t know what it feels like to have a birthday where no one attended the party. Even when it was just initially the three of us, others have always showed up and made the day festive. Not everyone is so fortunate-and God knows, there are those who get arrested, or even killed, on their “special day”. Thankfully, this has not happened to anyone I have known, save one person, back in the mid-90s. There are many who do, however, end up noting their birthdays nearly alone. Today’s celebrant was one of those, on several occasions, over the years.
Another aspect of this day is the marking of three decades. Often, the “Big Three-Oh” is a mark of maturity, or at least the glimmerings of such, in a person’s life. For me, back in 1980, it was the day when a woman in San Diego told me I didn’t need to try so hard, in starting a relationship. She was in a bond of her own, so was not dropping any hints-but she said I was more physically attractive and personable than I was allowing self to acknowledge. That was borne out, a week later, when I met Penny in Zuni, NM and my life changed-for the next thirty years, if not forever. My thirties, which my last landlady in Maine had told me, two years earlier, would be enjoyable, were also the period in which I shed a long-standing bugbear: Alcohol dependence; and changed the scope of my faith, from Catholic to Baha’i- more in keeping with my own belief in the essential unity of all people-and the wholeness of Creation.
I became a father, towards the end of the decade, and now our son is in his own thirties, a loving husband, a diligent student, and a man on the cusp of a senior rank in the U.S. Navy Reserves. He has a solid life plan, a tad more organized than I had at that age, and which is also flexible enough that no change in humanity’s fortunes can derail it.
So, I see my young friend also finding a viable path, one that he and his best friend here can navigate together, if they wish. I sense that his days of viewing the world though the half-empty glass, a worldview rooted simply in fear, are over and that his considerable gifts are going to bear fruit.
Life in one’s thirties is indeed a triple-decker, of knowledge, wisdom and meaningful action.
I have to admit that I have never understood “the meaning of life,” or why it was so important as to trigger all the negative emotions that come with its evaluation. I embarked on a second phase of fledging during my 30th year, moving to Hawaii and living there for the next 5 years. I became really excited when I turned 50, because at that point I could look back and see what I had accomplished in a half century. And I always believe that decade birthdays are more iportant than those in between, perhaps for the same reason. I like the concept of a decade birthday being a time to change one’s mindset, though even that seems a little abrupt if done only at birthdays!
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Changing one’s mindset, of course, is not always neatly arranged into years ending in zero or five. I was 31, when we married; 37, when Aram was born and just happened to be 60, when Penny died. She, in turn, was 27, 33 and 56, at the time of each milestone. My 25th birthday was a day when my then-boss gleefully fired me, when he found out it was my quarter century, 35th was miserable, for several reasons. 50, I was mildly harassed by my supervisor at the time. Each event, though, did help me to do more self-assessment and change certain mindsets.