When someone doesn’t want to acknowledge aging with another birthday, she often picks an age and claims to be holding there. Generally it’s a number ending in “9.” But for me the number is 53.
Maybe I’ve always been inexplicably drawn to the number 53. As a child, I was always making cards for people. Actually, I still do that. Anyway, it started in childhood. For some reason I still remember the card I made for my grandmother on her 53rd birthday. I put “53! 53! 53!” all over the front of the card. Inside I printed an original poem that began, “Bet you’ve always wanted to be the just-right age of 53!” It never dawned on me that a grownup might not be as excited as I was about growing older — and may not appreciate having her new age plastered all across the card. I didn’t truly believe 53 was a just-right age; it was her age and that’s what made it great to me. (I confess I was not so enamored with 53 when that was my birthday last year.)
This past year 53 has come to be a special age for me once more, because Michael was 53 when he died. Now to me he will be forever 53. And today I turned 54.
Michael was four months older than me. Each year we’d celebrate his birthday and I could tease him about being my elder until I caught up with him in January. But this time I passed him by. There’s something quite sobering about that. Something quite sad. We used to watch the “Highlander” TV series, the one starring Adrian Paul. There would sometimes be the emotional trauma of an immortal falling in love with a mortal, the mortal one knowing she would continue aging while her lover did not. Though Michael isn’t here to walk side-by-side with me, immortal to mortal, it makes me pause all the same. My memories of him will stop at age 53. But I may go on to 55…60…70…80 or beyond. If Michael were to come back for a visit 20 years from now, chances are he wouldn’t even recognize me. My aging is yet another fact that makes me feel farther and farther away from him as time marches on.
In spite of my sadness (and my resultant little breakdown last night), this has been a good birthday for me. Really good. I suspect the people in my life tried extra hard this year, and it did not go unnoticed. Church friends began by telling me “Happy birthday!” yesterday. Tons of Facebook friends have sent me “Happy birthday!” posts. Many co-workers have shared birthday greetings with me all day. Clay sent me a crazy e-card and the sweetest little note. Noel is cooking a special dinner for me tonight — and had to bake me a second birthday cake because the dog ate the first one! I got a visual birthday cake + a very nice message from Internet Monk, followed by comments from readers. I received a whopping surprise — an absolutely beautiful flower arrangement from dear friends. And the day’s not over yet!
In a strange way I’m glad — for Michael’s sake, not mine — that he’s 53 and holding. He will never know the health problems that can accompany old age. He will never be stricken with Alzheimers or dementia. The kids will never have to admit him to a nursing home. He exited the stage early, and as gracefully as he was able. I can find a sort of peace in knowing that.
And me? I don’t know how many years lie ahead, or what shape I’ll be in when it’s my time to go. For now I’m oh, so grateful for family and friends who love me so much that they can make a sad birthday one of my most special ever. You have turned my mourning into dancing, at least for today.