After 17,166 days, one would think I’d know a thing or two. And though it is absolutely true that not a day does goes by in which I have not reaped some wisdom, I am quite far from “there.” Tomorrow - day number 17,167 - will also conclude my 47th year. It would appear as though I have been graced with an entire weekend to celebrate, and indeed, the celebration has already begun. I have scheduled the bulk of this weekend and the next two weeks to the completion of two term papers so that I can successfully complete this semester of graduate study. In this respect, my birthday is just another early December Sunday in Sacramento, just as today is another early December Saturday. Fall semesters have been coming to an end during this time of year for way more than 17,166 days, this year is no different.
I graduated high school in 1981, but I didn’t go away to college until the fall of 1983, turning 21 that December. It was finals week at San Diego State University (SDSU) and the serious students were preoccupied with their studies. Although I aspired to be and thought I might yet become one, I was not a serious student. I had not the capacity or introspective capability to realize it, but retrospectively it is painfully obvious. Regardless, that seminal birthday was somewhat anticlimactic, but I understood why. It was nobody’s fault, I did not hold any resentments – I just got drunk at a local watering hole with my fraternity “big brother.” The 26 years since that night have been enlightening in so many ways and among the outcomes has been a demotion of the importance of celebrating growing old.
So this year, like more than a few in the recent past, the focus of the days surrounding December 6th are not on celebrating the beginning of another year in my life, but continuing on the path to eudaimonia – loosely translated Greek for “happiness,” or “the good life” or “a fully formed (or informed) inner self.” It is a balance of reason and passion, the ability to wisely decide what the right thing to do in any given situation is. It is about knowing truth, beauty and goodness. But what does it means as far as the celebration of my 47th birthday? What kind of celebration could the grind of schoolwork possibly be? Interestingly, it is only through the wisdom gained from those 47 years – all of them – that I can answer those questions.
I could, and probably will take some time tomorrow to relax and reflect… maybe ride my Harley to my local Peet’s Coffee enjoy a leisurely cup of joe. But the real satisfaction I derive from these semester-end days will come from a celebration of a different kind. It is a deferred celebration, but like anything really worthwhile, these are the things that have lasting value. Aside from the fuzzy memory of getting drunk on my 21st birthday, there is little I could relate about that day or those surrounding it.
By the time this calendar year comes to a close, there will be real, substantive and perhaps even important work finished that I will be able to point to. Moreover, that work is part of a far loftier goal and one that I could not even imagine just five years ago. In other words, I am doing what I need to do to celebrate success that is much greater than simply staying alive for another year (although my history shows that is no small task, either). It is the practical balancing of reason and passion. It is not yet eudemonia, but the next (and only) best thing is the continued striving for it; like perfection, it is never fully attainable. In that respect, today (and tomorrow) I am celebrating my birth - and my life. And the celebration occurs regardless of any particular box on the calendar.