Wise Words Upon Turning 30

2 Dec
My brother is the best writer I know.  I turned 30 today, and as is his tradition, he sent me a unique and thoughtful email.   I thought it was worth sharing here:

Dear Elizabeth,
Since our basically arbitrary base ten numbering system makes this birthday feel more significant than it reasonably should, I think it’s worth remembering that milestones that were once ominous are now simply cute.  So I’m copying one of my favorite poems about a kid who probably reflects a bit too much.

For all of the poem’s silliness, there is surely some truth that even a child turning ten can feel distress (I remember feeling a little weird about it).  But of course, it’s impossible for the reader not to smile at the child’s list of woes.  Obviously, his bicycle is just as fast as it was the day before, and he’s filled with golden light no more nor less than he used to be.  Still, it is hard to say goodbye to imaginary friends . . .
 
On Turning Ten (by Billy Collins)

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

I’ve actually always thought it was unfair in this poem that four-year-olds have a monopoly on Arabian wizardry.  Frankly, it sounds better than being a soldier or a prince.  Still, it seems likely that by the next day the narrator will have found some new role to play and forgotten about the solemn window light (his real danger may be succumbing to a Walter Mitty-like state later in life).  
 
In any case, happy birthday!  I’m pretty sure your bicycles still have more than enough dark blue speed to keep zipping along 🙂

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