On Turning 40

There was a time when I thought 40 was the end. I was probably 19 or so, drunk on the peculiar poetry of youth, philosophical in the way that only the semi-mature can be, and caught in the strange shadowlands between the unbounded world-is-your-oyster optimism and the soul-killing despair at the evils of the world.

40? Might as well be dead.

All young men, perhaps, wish to be Achilles: heroic, strong, beautiful, foolhardy, passionate, burning like a flame, and passing on in the flower of their youth. The smarter and luckier of us perhaps find our way to becoming Odysseus: canny, wise, old, and finding happiness in the simple joys of hearth and home.

So here I am at the magical age. The day doesn’t feel any different from any other day. The heavens did not open up with significant signs. The earth did not move, since I don’t live in California. Or Washington DC. But I can’t help but reflect on a few things, especially with literally dozens of people on Facebook wishing me a happy birthday. Consider this my heartfelt thanks to all of you.

Hunger, and Satisfaction

The strangest thing about reflecting on the 40 milestone is the sense of being satisfied and hungry at the same time.

I think of my 20’s as the Age of Hunger. I had just graduated. The whole world was open before me with limitless opportunities. I was a smart young man in the Big City. Not having come from wealth (actually, we lived in a whole other zip code from wealth, in parts of town the smart people program their GPS to avoid), all I knew in my 20’s was hunger, ambition, desire. To prove myself. To learn more. To achieve something, and then achieve the next thing. It’s the beautiful, bountiful, bodacious energy of youth.

I crossed the threshold into 30 and felt as if I had finally grown up. I have since been disabused of that notion, and have actively sought to go backwards as much as possible, but… the 30’s were a calm decade marked more by satisfaction at what I had achieved in my 20’s, what I had learned in that decade of life, and some of the accomplishments. I got married. I became a father. I found professional happiness at some wonderful companies, and had edifying experiences at one or two really crappy companies. It is as if a young colt found its legs, pranced around enough, and came to realize… “Oh, so this is how I run!”

At 40, however, a man realizes that somewhere between half to two-thirds of his life (depending on your lifestyle, healthy habits or lack thereof, and so on) is behind him. One can’t help but look backwards, at least briefly, as if over the shoulder at a shadow seen out of the corner of the eye. And the thinking man can’t help wonder, just what is it that I have accomplished with these four decades on this earth? And asking that question, I am caught up in the juxtaposition of satisfaction and a newfound ambition.

Ambition, hunger — these are rekindled because the accomplishments, no matter how great and interesting, are firmly in the past. To simply follow that path from the bygone days of memory to the present and into the road ahead is… fine. But there’s something unsettling about the idea. It’s as if I am surrendering to the idea that my best days are behind me: I’ve scratched and clawed and fought and climbed my way to this place, and I am ready to coast a while now. Maybe such a path is eminently sensible, but having spent my later 30’s learning that I really haven’t grown up all that much yet, I’m not ready to call it a Job Well Done. Not yet. No, like Dylan Thomas, I will rage against the dying of the light. Whatever it is that I have learned, whatever skills I have honed, whatever hard-earned wisdom I have gained (for each jot and tittle of which I have paid, and paid, and paid again)… I see as not accomplishments in and of themselves, but preparation for whatever it is that lies ahead. I find that I am hungry again.

But at the same time, sitting at dinner listening to my two little sons sing me happy birthday with total disregard for tune, tonality, and the laws of music… I can’t help but be satisfied. Running around on a typical busy Wednesday, but fielding calls with my agent, with the builder, with the mortgage people, all working on our new home, and knowing that we have built a certain amount of financial security… it is well nigh impossible for a poor immigrant kid from the ghetto not to feel blessed at the life I have. Throughout the day, being able to get on the phone with business associates and people I respect so much in our quirky, strange, twisted little industry, and know that they consider me a colleague… it is impossible not to feel a sense of satisfaction.

And most of all, getting phone calls and Facebook messages, and emails and tweets throughout the day (while I was out running around on a typically busy Wednesday), I can’t help but be satisfied at the people I’ve met over these four decades of journey, struggle, and accomplishment… I can’t help but be pleased at having friends both old and new, and friends I have not yet met. Some of the greatest human beings on the planet, I have met in the past few years… quite a few of them because of this blog and these too-long ramblings. I can’t even help but be pleased at the few enemies I have made along the way, for who they are, and what they are, define me as well.

So let me say this: all of you who are reading this right now, you honor me. With your attention, sometimes with your comments, rarely with your insults, and often with your friendship. You make life interesting, challenging, fun, and make the journey just a little bit easier. To the haters — you also honor me with your hate, for you are beneath contempt and the praise of low characters is worthless indeed.

So thank you all. Today, I am well satisfied with my blessed life. And yet, I hunger again. The spark is rekindled into an open flame.

Watch what happens from now. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I look forward to making that journey over the next decade with you all. I got nothing but love 4 you.

-rsh

 

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