Birthday Post 4: Being 23 and a Half

This summer, I didn’t write on my 23rd birthday. I was working in the wilderness and a friend and coworker insisted that I take as much of a break as possible. I slept under the Colorado stars and read sections of a high fantasy novel, and the camp coordinators slipped some candy into our provisions as a surprise for me on that camping trip.

In the past six months, though, I’ve regretted that I didn’t reflect on my age in writing. Since I was 13, I’ve made it a point to make each birthday special. I often rose early to greet the sunrise on my birthday, and though I didn’t practice meditation at the time, I meditatively accepted my age and owned it. But this year, I’ve slipped a few times in stasis. I keep almost saying I’m 24 or 22, and wondering why I did that.

Correlation or a self-fulfilling prophecy is possible. My expectation is that writing on my birthday is a consistent thing that helps me establish that age.

I’m conflicted about age and life stages. I want to acknowledge my own epic and mark the miles as I go, but age is so arbitrary. As I continue to study religion and philosophy and self-growth, I’m more and more convinced that ageism is a serious problem in society and the human experience. In my experience, older people are generally condescending, and children are overlooked.

I’m open to be proven wrong about this. I want to be proven wrong, to know that most people don’t think age is a measure of wisdom. When I work with kids, I want to listen and learn, while owning my responsibility as the adult source of stability and safety.

What I do know, though, is that even though birthdays are arbitrary, it’s a chance to reflect, take note, and look ahead. I’m opening myself to cyclical living over linear living, and meeting with myself on a birthday is sacred, just as it would be sacred to meet with the same person in the same place sometimes.

I’m 23 and a half, and it feels very childish, despite how much I hate referring to anything as “childish,” to count half-years. My disinterest in counting each year seems odd. I can count much higher than 23, and I remember finding it a challenge to count as high as I could, first in English and then in a few other languages. In the book Island of the Blue Dolphins, Karana grows tired of counting moons, and instead starts leaving marks four times a year.

It feels like I’m getting tired of counting too quickly. I can count way higher than 23, and I hope you heard that in my 3-year-old voice, at a time when I was content to challenge myself to count as high as I could.

For most people, time seems to go by more quickly as they get older. This is because, in theory, our perspective is lengthening with every passing moment, and a year is always a shorter percentage of our overall life experience. A year is 50% of a two-year-old’s life experience, but by the time you’re five, that has dropped to 20%.

Older people always told me life would get faster and faster, but life has slowed down as I’ve gotten older. The universe is vaster than I ever thought it would be. So the time between birthdays is long. Maybe that’s why I felt good about going back and counting a half-year. It felt like unfinished business after skipping my post when I turned 23. Saying “and a half” was a great way to practice fractions as a child, if nothing else. I still like it.