I'll turn 44 on Wednesday and I've finally accepted my fate: I'm middle-aged.
My hair, which used to reside exclusively on the top of my noggin, is moving south. My hairdresser, after clipping what's left of the hair on my head, clips the hair that now grows proudly in my lobes.
Some of my friends have been married for 20 years. They have children in college. Others are just getting started. They're starting their families in middle age, which I still hope to do, when they have the means and ability to ruin their children for the rest of their lives.
I can date an attractive 53-year-old divorcee on Friday, her equally attractive 28-year-old daughter on Saturday. Or, to be more precise, I can be shunned by the mother for being too young and shunned by her daughter for being too old.
There are many benefits of aging, though. A man my age cares more about important things, such as trying to comprehend the meaning of it all, and less about unimportant things, such as whether or not everybody likes me.
I'm not so picky as I used to be. Neither is my father. My father used to be particular about the girls I dated: "Is she Catholic? Will she be a good mother?" Now he asks things like, "But can we teach her to speak English?"
I understand and respect the speed with which time is passing. I remember the day I got out of college, already 22 years ago. Boy, that went fast. I'm beginning to say things such as, "A couple of decades ago, I ..."
The next 22 years, I know, will pass much more quickly. That troubles me. My father and mother, 72 and 69 respectively, may not be here then. A lot of people I love may not. Heck, I may not, if I don't stop carrying on like a 28-year-old.
At 44, I am at once still a fool, though blessed with a touch of wisdom, most of which I've gotten from other people, such as Great-Uncle John on my mother's side. He lived a rich life to 100. He had a simple philosophy on living well:
"Always look forward, never back."
He was right about that. As we middle-aged folks face our mortality, we quickly look backward. We focus on our failures, on all the things we did not accomplish. A midlife crisis ensues one, with any luck, that will involve a lovely cocktail waitress.
Looking forward, not backward, is not so easy to do. Being positive, not negative, is also not so easy, but these are the keys to living well, no matter what stage of life you find yourself in.
At this point, it appears to me, most of living is drudgery. It involves parking tickets and colds and spending lots of time doing unfulfilling work because it pays well. This drudgery is sometimes interrupted by moments of unbearable pain, such as the unexpected death of your 57-year-old uncle, and other moments of unbelievable happiness (see "cocktail waitress" above).
My mother told me the story of an old fellow who lay dying in a hospital bed. He is enjoying his last cigarette. He talks of how he worked and sacrificed everything to attain riches and popularity and power. Now in his deathbed, he realizes all he ever wanted was a cigarette.
As I get older, I enjoy spring days more and the first cup of coffee in the morning and the company of interesting, soulful people who are clearly connected to something profound.
I know that tomorrow might bring something that causes me to laugh deeply and thoroughly into the night, or I might be strapping on a suit and tie to head to the funeral home.
I know this because I'm turning 44 on Wednesday, a day when, I hope, I begin looking forward, never back.