Many years ago in the late 90’s there was a pretty average movie called To Gillian on her 37th Birthday. It starred Michelle Pfeiffer as the mother Gillian and Clare Danes as her teenage daughter. Anyway, it turns out in the movie that Gillian dies before she turns 37 and puts her whole family in a tail spin. They each miss her and pine for her, talking to her as though she is still alive.
Anyway the point this is that, watching this film at the tender age of 15 I had a very warped and strange understanding of what the age of 37 meant. The gravitas and meaning behind the age of 37.
The age of 37 seemed so remote as to be unfathomable to me. It was the age where people’s bodies and faces begin to sag. The age where woman is most definitely a mother of some description – to a baby, a young child or a blossoming young adult, At 37, according to my 15 year old self I would be a seasoned actor in life, like a cut of good beef or a good vintage wine. 37 was the age of refined tastes, of a decent taste in men and the ability to say no to people and mean it. 37 was the year that hair was salt and pepper in consistency. At 15 I couldn’t honestly picture myself at 37, it sounded so unbelievably old! As though I was ready to retire my earthly body from any sort of adoration, physical or otherwise. As though I would be some sort of fading flower, like a rose ending its ripest and most robust blooming period.
As any middle-class aspiring teen in the 90’s, I pictured myself at 37 owning a yacht, a 4WD and to have a lot of physical marks of class distinction to my name.
At 37, I imagined that I would cover my entire sagging body from the ravages of time by wearing ¾ length cargo pants and wear my hair plaited primly to the back of my head, or have a functional and no-nonsense pixie hair cut which spoke of my maturity. I would perhaps have a divorce under my belt or at least have some dark and mysterious past that I had overcome and thrived in spite of.
And now, today at the age of 37 I am happy to report that some of this meandering future imaginings did come to pass and some of it has remained purely fantasy. I am also happy to report that unlike a lot of the more turmultous love stories and dramas that fed the inner life of my teenage brain, that my life thus far has been a lot more productive, positive and happy than is depicted by the typical story arcs and narratives of Hollywood. And for that I am extremely grateful.
Just exactly what came to pass and what remained fiction is probably my business and not the internet’s.
Although time’s proximity to ourselves is uncanny. It’s scarily fleeting like watching a shooting star take a traversing arc of the night sky. Although that star moved millions of kilometres across the sky, the way we see it is from a fingernail’s breadth and width. The same is true for age, where we see ourselves in the mirror each day and fail to notice changes, it’s all so mundane after all.
Everything is constantly moving, and there’s no stopping or halting the hazy, proximity of one’s own ageing self. It comes out of the mists like a dark spectre, although it was always there, in the background biding its time even when you and I were quite young. Mortality was licking its lips playfully even when you and I were only little children, legs and arms encircled by baby fat and motoring through insurmountable obstacles and being unbreakable.
Our first words, first break-neck speeding gallop through the fields and streets of our lives, our first kiss, first sexual encounter, first everything is a symbol and signal of our decay.
Stepping back into that mode, I can see myself running through things, running endlessly and with a fervent wild joy. Oh the joy of being young! I can feel that electricity pulsing through my arteries and powering my limbs. I can feel the sun on my face and the way summers stretched out endlessly into the ether of my life. The world was an endless expanse of possibility and opportunity for me. The world was endlessly curious, weird, forbidding and foreboding. Filled with bogeymen and abductors lurking in corners, ready to pounce on me and do I don’t know what.
Instead of being worried though and depairing of this fact, it might help to remember that there’s immense and innumerable number of us and we are all going through this same existential crisis, the crisis of reality, ageing, decay and dying. Therefore that sky you picture above you, the planets moving around in a merciless, faceless and anonymous motion through the heavens. These existed before any of us, before time itself. They will go on burning in the sky long after each of us in dead.
That is comforting to remember because death is the great leveller for us all. We all die and with the exception of a handful universally known humans, each of us and the sum and total of our achievements, failures, great loves and great pathological hates will remain unknown. What that means is that we should drop the facade, drop the artifice, smoke and mirrors that we erect around ourselves to delude ourselves about the significance of our lives.
We will all be forgotten and lost to the majority of people left on the planet. What counts though is the bit in between, right now that we think and do and make while we are still here. What counts is who we met and who we loved on the way. What matters is how we brought more kindness, love and beauty in the world in the mean time in that sliver of time that we have.
Anyway, happy birthday to any of the other Aries out there.