The Observer turned 40 years old over the weekend, a milestone for sure, only a number, but a daunting one. The oldsters in the audience are sure to be wistfully breathing: “Ye Gods! To be 40!” Meanwhile, the youngsters are undoubtedly saying the same thing, only with awe and dread. A middle place, then, somewhere between youngster and oldster. Middle aged? Probably, though you’ll never hear us admit it until we’re piloting a tennis-ball-footed walker. Nobody likes to say they’re in the middle, except those who are getting on toward the end.
The Observer isn’t so sure what to think about all this arithmetic. We clearly remember asking Ma on our 10th birthday: “I wonder where I’ll be when I’m 40?” The Cubserver and Ma not even being able to fathom where things might be in the faraway age of 2014, not able to even comprehend what color the jetpack in the garage and the robot dog in the back yard of our flying saucer-shaped house might be, not sure what we’d call our mechanical housekeeper. Back in 1984, there was even a chance that we’d be nowhere, nuked to Jubilee by some vodka-tanked Russian premiere, or burned to a crisp by the hole in the ozone layer, whose edges were being constantly nibbled by the fog from a jillion cans of Aquanet and folks who made a religion out of the higher the hair, the closer to God.
Somehow, though, The Observer made it. Ten years old was long ago and far away, my friends. And now, to be here, shipwrecked in this far, jetpackless future, in no more than the length of time it took to fish a mote of summer fluff from our 10-year-old eye. At 40, you realize how quickly it all moves, quicker than a falcon at wing, and that’s what fills you with dread in the ebb of the night: How quickly the years will move between now and the inevitable, unknowable end.
If you let those years move so quickly, we suppose. There are ways to slow it down, of course. Life is all memory and anticipation, the past and the future, the present swirling past you always like a stone in the river, so swift of current that the beginning of this sentence will be receding into the past before you hit the period at the end, the future out there somewhere, delicious, pulling you along, making you wonder what damn fool thing Yours Truly will say before we hit the end of this sentence: fire truck, steamboat, papaya, Geronimo. The way to slow it down is just to truly live, which is harder than it sounds. The Observer tries like hell to pull that one off sometimes and doesn’t cut the mustard, crashing instead in front of the TV with 57,000 movies or the bottomless Internet (the time-sucking wonders of the future, young sir!), only to look up hours later to realize it’s midnight, another irredeemable day quietly slipped over the edge of the world while we stared at reruns of “The Sopranos.” We are, as a lot, entirely too interested in the products of the imaginations of other people, and not nearly interested enough in our own. If The Observer is ever in need of an epitaph, let that be it.
And so, The Observer looks at 40: heart of a 19-year-old, memory of a 60-year-old who has just slipped in the bathroom and whacked his head on the toilet, face of a 107-year-old whaling ship captain. The view from this ridge is good, we think, even though it’s probably all downhill from here. Or maybe not. That’s what makes life both livable and dang near unbearable: the uncertainty of it all. You never see the best year of your life coming, and a lot of people don’t recognize it even after it’s long gone.
Speaking of gone: Begone, birthday! Let’s get back to living without lingering on a number, without all this addition and subtraction, division and solving for Final X. Our 20s were entirely too immature, our 30s entirely too serious. Let this be The Decade of Don’t Give a Shit, then, though maybe we should save that one for our 50s. The Decade of Love, maybe. The Decade of Giving Back to Those Who Have Loved Us. The Decade of Keeping On With Keeping On. Sounds like a plan. Somebody remind us to write it down somewhere so we don’t forget it.