“I can’t wait ‘til I’m a grown up because…” says four-year-old Bryce. He has already began making plans and dreaming about his future. We talk about his thoughts on a career—“Being Dad’s work friend” and “Helping Mommy hold her camera.” He tells me that he wants to be an adult, because “I am excited to be a dad.” He has told me that he is not interested in drinking wine now, but when he is a grown-up, milk will no longer be his preferred beverage.
When you are young, there are so many milestones to look forward to, such as getting a driver’s license, being able to vote, drinking legally, and becoming independent. Each birthday is eagerly awaited.
At what point does that excitement turn to antipathy? For me, it was each new decade beginning at forty, when I truly knew I was no longer a kid. I watched my parents age, and with each passing birthday, new wrinkles appeared, trips to the doctors increased, and their memories deteriorated.
Grandpa’s travels became primarily limited to walking from the living room window to observe the neighborhood activities, to shuffling into the kitchen for a cup of coffee or his afternoon glass of wine. Grandma now spends most of the day in her recliner, with the television tuned to whichever station was last turned on by one of the nursing home aides or a visitor.
If this is my future, it saddens me. However, my gloom turns to hope when I dine with our new friend, a ninety-four year old gentleman with a perpetual smile on his face. He greets me by name and with a hug, and we have animated discussions about our lives—mostly his because he is so fascinating—and he tells me about his travels. He has seen the world—China, Thailand, Alaska, Germany, and Ireland. He does not look just backward on his life, but happily anticipates his future trips.
At this moment, he is on an adventure in New Zealand and hopes to visit the Galapagos Islands or Ireland in his ninety-fifth year. I asked if his family is uneasy with his solo travels, and he admitted that they are. He dismissed their worries telling me, “If something happens to me while I am away, what’s wrong with that? I have lived a long life, and I am happy now. I am doing what I want.”
What a great attitude, and what an admirable and memorable man! He is my hero! If I can still be physically and mentally fit enough to still travel and socialize thirty years from now, then birthdays will become a day of pride.