I turned 50 on New Year’s Eve. Leading up to the day I made an array of plans. I wanted to do something big, something physically difficult, to mark the event for myself. This wasn’t about roping other people into a celebration. I have a great group of friends who are down for most nonsense, and because my birthday falls on this broadly auspicious date, I tend to get more attention than is in any way necessary.
I’m not 7 years old. I don’t need a roller-skating, Spiderman-themed party to feel special.
At the same time, I did want my birthday to be life affirming. I wanted to make the point, to myself, that even if I’m firmly and deeply into middle-age, I’ve got a lot of gas in the tank, and a lot of motivation for adventure.
Cut to the morning of December 31st, 5:30am. The dog is whimpering outside the bedroom door. I get up to see what he needs. He’s got dogahrea, the runs. I hit go on the coffee maker and resolve to nap later in the day.
In planning my big adventure, I’d run through a bunch of options. First choice was to skin up my favorite ski mountain at midnight and ski down with headlamps on. Problem was, not enough snow on the hill and no rooms at the inn.
OK. Spending the holiday at home.
I thought about climbing one of the 4,000-foot peaks in New Hampshire. Problem was, highly variable weather, too unpredictable, probably not cool to drag friends up into that level of misery. Like, I was down for it, but only a couple of my friends would have taken that on and been happy about it.
So I settle on a hard local hike, a 15-mile round trip over some really technical up and down terrain that’s only about a half hour from my house. I figured people who wanted to do just some of it could, we’d all be close to home, etc. etc.
So after I started the coffee maker, on the big morning, I performed a rapid Covid test, because joy-of-joys, one of my kids had tested positive a few days earlier and though we had quarantined him and worn masks in the house, I thought it would be rude to show up for the hike spewing contagion.
I tested positive, even though I felt fine.
In the end, I decided to hike, but I remained distant from everyone who showed up, and at this point, predictably, I started to feel light-headed a little over 4 miles in. It was hard to do, but I decided to turn back. Discretion, they say, is the better part of valor, and I thought it best not to drag myself farther from the exit with a heavy virus on board. We made it back to the car with 9 miles in the bag and I felt none the worse for the effort.
At that point, I went downhill pretty fast. Got home, felt extra tired. Head cold symptoms came flooding in. No denying it. Sick. And I’ve been laid low since. It was, to say the least, a really disappointing turn of events.
Disappointment. This is kinda what adulthood is about. How to deal with disappointments and move forward, not to dwell, but to move on and do the best you can?
Intellectually, I’m aware that acceptance is the path to freedom, but as with all solutions to difficult challenges, saying it is easier than doing it. I had built my 50th birthday up in my head as somehow really important and getting over the disappointment of it falling apart so comprehensively hasn’t been easy. I feel as though something’s been stolen from me.
That’s self-pity though.
I have this occasional experience of planning a big ride, maybe I’ve signed up for an event or just concocted a big adventure, and I train and prep my stuff and I show up, and for some reason beyond my control, things don’t go well. Maybe it’s hot and humid that day and no matter how much liquid and electrolyte I choke down I dehydrate and/or bonk, and the whole thing turns into a sufferslog. Like my birthday I’d built it up in my head as this joyful transcendent experience and that’s just not on the menu that day.
It’s hard to get to the finish if you feel bad and you’re wallowing in self-pity. I have never not wallowed, at least a little bit. But the question, “Why me?” is absurd and beside the point. It makes whatever is happening about you, which is manifestly isn’t. You are where you are until you take yourself somewhere else.
So you keep going, because that’s all there ever is to do.