New column from The Rotarian:
When I turned 40, my younger brother gave me a joke gift: adult diapers. A few years later, when he turned 40, I gave them back. Touché!
The message behind this joke was not subtle: You’re old, and your body is going to stop working. In fact, for practically every birthday after the 18th, there are hundreds of cards with the same corny jokes about your failing memory and your sagging body. They’re so ubiquitous they seem harmless.
At the time, I thought it was all in good fun. But lately I’ve been wondering if that is the case. Recently, I listened to a successful national radio commentator — a man in his 60s — bending over backward to avoid saying how old he was. I was struck by the strangeness of it. Why would he be ashamed of having lived so much life? Why did he want so desperately to seem younger than he was?
As I inch closer to 50 myself, I don’t feel particularly decrepit. I still travel, and I have plenty of energy and lots of things I want to do. A few years ago I even started running ultramarathons. Yet every time I have a birthday or shop for a birthday card, I’m struck by the mix of ridicule and despair with which we mark each passing year. It gets harder and harder to find a birthday card that is celebratory.