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Happy Birthday!

So, dear reader, today is my birthday. I do not announce that seeking salutations; rather, a birthday essentially forces us each to stop and recognize the inexorable movement of time, the unstoppable advancement of age, and the inevitable loss associated with both. Unless you live alone, do not participate in social media, and have no family, there is no escaping the birthday. Delightful as a child, exciting as a young man, and heartwarming in middle age, I find them less appealing in my “silver” years.

There is no doubt about the integral part that balance plays in life – I’ve written of it often. And there is also no doubt that life is about loss; we lose friends and family, we lose beloved pets, and we lose across the spectrum in the physical body: strength, speed, agility, keenness of senses, and (ironically) even balance. But there enters balance; we gain in other areas to compensate for what we lose – not directly of course such as enhanced eyesight for loss of hearing – but we simultaneously lose and gain throughout our lives.

The price of love is grief. A wonderful quote often attributed to Queen Elizabeth but actually by British psychiatrist Dr. Parkes, and quite telling in its brevity. It dovetails quite nicely with Tennyson’s quote “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Balance. Gain and loss. I’ve had a lot of loss in in my life, yet I have had a lifetime filled with love and wonderful memories of those people and those times. (A note to this: I wish I had some memories of my mother who died when I was so young, but since I really don’t remember her, there isn’t much grief associated with the loss, so not a lot of fond memories to balance the loss.)

But it is easy to lose perspective as you age; easy to view life as the tide going out, the sun setting, or the moon waning due to the losses in the physical realm. We often can lose sight of all we’ve gained throughout our lifetime when a loss in the physical body is immediately in front of you. Those moments pop up when you trip over a branch on a hike and instead of catching yourself as you always would have in your younger days, you fail to do so and you fall; when you are on the floor to assemble a piece of furniture and can’t quite get up without changing your position or grabbing a chair; when you get a new watch and need to put on glasses to see the text on it in order to set it up. They are life’s daily reminders that you are aging and you are losing physical skills.

You don’t notice them much in your 30’s; maybe you go play football or baseball after not having played for five or six years – you’ll notice your breath is a little short or you aren’t as fast as you seemed to remember. And of course the next day, your muscles will remind you of the fact that they are not as young as they used to be. Noticing loss becomes more prevalent in your 40’s and it becomes an almost daily visitor in your 50’s.  But at the same time, you are often at the pinnacle of your profession – making a difference, making change, making things better – and that is extremely rewarding. And that provides great balance against the physical losses. Your focus and objectives change as you age and physical prowess and ability fall by the wayside and yield to things like authority, responsibility, and accomplishments in your profession. Balance.

As I write this, I need to comment that I am one of the lucky ones; I have not gained much weight in my years; I think I have gone from a 29 waist to a 31 waist in my pants; my hair has thinned, but there is still a lot of it; I can still do 50 push-ups and can still hike 15 miles at a good clip. I look in the mirror and am surprised because I don’t feel what the grey hair and beard reflect back to me; there are times I feel like I am right back in the ‘70’s (the decade – not age!) and I count those blessings daily. But I can’t see well – distance or up close – anymore. My hearing sucks to put it plainly, just miserable. They tell me it’s around 15% loss but I miss so much in daily conversations that I really feel like it’s more. I used to be as nimble as a mountain goat – never fell unless I was absolutely pushing the limits – but I did fall while hiking, a couple of times, this year.

While loss leaves a hole, from the perspective that something is taken away, the reality of life is truly that of balance; whatever is lost and leaves a hole is replaced with something else to fill in that hole. Therefore, more than being about loss, life is more about change; about living through various stages and iterations of ourselves. We grow wiser – I have so much more wisdom now than when I was 20. We continue to learn, daily. Memories and emotions fill our heart and soul every day. Our children grow and we transition from parent to grandparent (if you’re lucky). You probably go from the worker to the boss. The spoils of life begin to amass, whether those spoils be in the form of financial wealth, items you treasure and collect, hobbies you have pursued and excelled at, or unique skills you have nurtured and honed through your life. You change, your hopes and desires change, your goals and dreams change, and your life changes – you change.

I wear a wristwatch – daily. I have since a teenager. I do not step out the door without a watch on my wrist; maybe it’s happened four or five times in my life. It is just a big deal to me; part of who I am as a man. I have many watches, maybe up to eight, tucked away. One or two were my father’s and one or two were my father in-law’s; the rest I’ve bought – bought after carefully studying them, considering them, almost stalking them to ensure they fit exactly what I want. Ironically, for the last 20 years, I have basically worn the same watch every day, or multiple replacements of the same watch as one broke as I replaced it with the same model. I still watch shop sometimes, looking for the next great watch. I should add that I remain a traditionalist – a good old-fashioned analog watch – although my daily watch also has a digital window that displays day and date (or stopwatch/timer/alarm). I’ve looked at smartwatches but am just not there, this despite my deep love for technology and the next greatest gadget.

And guess what my wife got me for my birthday today? Yep. A watch.

Although to be precise, a FitBit. Not really a watch but sort of a smartwatch, kind of both with some heart-rate and other physical monitoring functions I haven’t explored yet. I was completely surprised. Ironically, I have been stalking a particular watch over the last month – an analog chronograph – even had the chosen model in my cart online for a day but hadn’t pulled the trigger and bought it. Glad I didn’t! So this was a big surprise to me. And yes, she knows me, and she full well knew I really didn’t want one and wasn’t interested in one, but she still thought I would like it if I tried it. As such, it is actually a very thoughtful gift, given her knowledge of how I love technology. We bought a similar watch for my daughter for Christmas and she loves it. And she agreed with my wife that I would learn to love one as well. Change.

And I will try; I will wear it and see what it can do and what it has to offer. I don’t think I am all that interested in my heart-rate but I guess I’ll now know it. I never, ever, wear my watch to bed but apparently I am supposed to do that with this one so it can monitor my sleeping patterns or something. And while it is not an Apple smartwatch, it can pair with my phone with Bluetooth for notifications, calls, etc. So I guess we’ll see. I will wear it, I will use it, and I will run it through its paces and we’ll see if it ends up asserting itself as my new daily watch….digital watch.

Change: like the tide, the sun, and the moon you can’t deny them; they will change no matter how you mat close your eyes and pretend otherwise. Open your eyes dear reader and embrace the change – it will usually take you someplace wonderful that you never expected to go and will inevitably fill a hole of something lost. Meanwhile, I need to go figure out how to tell what time it is, digitally, to help mark the passage of yet another year for me.

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