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I had a birthday recently. By the title you can rightly guess the day’s number. Whether or not I celebrated the day depends on your idea of celebration. If celebrate means recognize, then I celebrated the day as well as anyone could. If you take celebrate to mean rejoice and have a party, then I barely touched the first number on the scale of one to ten. If there ever was a time when I craved celebration, it is lost far enough back in memory to feel either nonexistent or hopelessly unreal. Is it fair to say you are either a party person or you are not, which to me is much the same as saying either one likes manufactured excitement or one does not? Saying that, even if it makes some small sense, is only partly valid because I like the manufactured excitement of a symphony but will generally run as if pursued by fire at the sight of a small stage with an electric guitar amp.
You can call that snobbish if you want, but at a posh restaurant where a pianist crooned on the side I arose to make a request that they cease the show tunes racket and take a lovely long break. Shoving twenties into a brandy snifter never accomplished more than it did that night by restoring a soothing gap where conversation didn’t need to rise above Rogers and Hammerstein to be heard. That doesn`t seem snobbish to me. I doubt, in fact, any entertainment done where food and drink are actively served is any different whether the entertainer wears a tux while roaring above the crowd or wears jeans and an advertising T-shirt (which would be more practical) to set a boom box on a table for our common enjoyment.
I don’t think age has changed my preferences, but it’s more than a little the case that age has helped me to express them. At a time younger I’d have dutifully sat through an organized hubbub with an appropriately sincere smiling countenance. A few decades or so of added experience brought a happy expression of joy at having been immersed so successfully and completely in a shower of frivolous cacophony. These days I find it much easier to avoid such situations altogether, or to leave after a token period determined by a personal assessment of how much suffering I deserve as expiation of wrongs committed.
One temperament will enjoy a football rally and another will not. This is neither right nor wrong. Where contemporary assessment goes astray is in saying these differences are equivalent when they are not. The group organization at a rally is rather looser than that needed to organize the woodwind section of an orchestra. The social dynamic of beliefs recognizing rebirth and forgiveness are not equal to ones that demand obedience and subservience. At seventeen I may have felt overreaching conclusions to be wrong, but it took a while before the conviction to say so aloud grew strong enough for me to act on it.
Being politely respectful puts limits on utility. Is it more important to tolerate or to resist? When freedom and respect are used as excuses to justify and bolster the opposites of freedom and respect, then it is appropriate at any age to object with as much force as needed to counter. If you were truly being an idiot, wouldn’t you want to know? Shouldn’t a person (I know you can name some) be told when they are representing a bad argument? As an example, do we quietly accept “freedom of religion” used as an excuse to silence questioning of content?
There’s no way I can answer such questions for anyone but myself, but I hope that although my personal experience and bias is limited and limiting, I might still have some areas in common with others. Even so, a common (not shared) event such as a birthday will have different meaning or value depending on age and other circumstances. For most of us, entering our teens was significant, as was becoming of driving or legal age. These were milestone ages of greater independence and standing. For all of us, there are colorings of some degree, depending on how happily we are situated. I remember a degree of personal and family pride when I became a “big boy” with two numbers in my age. The step from nine to ten was important, though really there was no noticeable change.
At the time I had no idea that a date five weeks from my physical birthday marked my official entrance under the name I now have. That’s when Baby Boy Wahl became who I am called now. Which day is more important as my “birth” day? Is it the one in September or the one in October? And how can any person not experience at least some pause or pensive reflection when such dates arrive on an annual basis? I had excellent adoptive parents, but that does not remove a thoughtful mood of wondering about the circumstances involved when a birth mother gives up a child.
Matters of birth (or blood) are basic to the way we organize lives and communities around family and children, etc. As population grew more mobile and spread out, that change in family organization led to the need for and development of homes for the elderly, who’d have formerly stayed with and in family until old age won the battle. The demands or needs of many families today make it next to impossible for someone to be present in the home to look after the persons in need to regular assistance because of age or disability. We manage with these things by having developed what have become major businesses that handle child care, education, and care of the elderly or disabled. You can’t be at work and change a diaper at the same time, any more than you can live on the Iron Range and look after an aged parent in Georgia. However we do it, keeping our humanity intact is a person’s major challenge at any age.