Last week I turned 55. Much to my surprise, it wasn't nearly as traumatic as I'd feared. On the contrary, it was liberating and exhilarating. So exhilarating, in fact, that I'm still celebrating. 55 and alive! I think I deserve at least a week of partying for having reached this milestone birthday.
In fact, I think we all deserve a weeklong celebration, even for those in-between birthdays like 47 or 64 or 19. One day a year isn't enough. After all, there are 12 days of Christmas; more, actually, when you consider that some folks throw Christmas parties as early as the first week in December. So one week to celebrate the most significant day of our lives seems reasonable to me. It's not as if we advertise the coming of our birthday for two whole months beforehand, like some holidays do. OK, I take that back; some of us do start talking up our special day well in advance. But at least we're not incessantly reminding others to shop early for our gifts.
I've been doing the extended birthday celebration for a long time. It's partially due to my best friend's birthday being two days before mine. We start our joint celebration on her day, and continue through mine . . . and beyond. I was born on a Friday the 13th, but Robbie's the one who's had two of her major milestone birthdays overshadowed by calamity: Hurricane Iniki in 1991 and 9/11 in 2001. For me, the toughest to get through was my 50th, having been widowed five months earlier. But even that one turned into a remarkable occasion, as I spent it on tour with the Barefoot Natives, Willie K and Eric Gilliom.
Two of my three husbands dreaded their birthdays. Forget about celebrating for a week; they couldn't even enjoy one day of merrymaking. One would sink into depression at the same time each year, about two weeks before the big day. By the time it finally arrived, he had worked himself into a state of apathy and incapacitation. The other was fixated on youth and hated the annual reminder of his true age. He was the only person I ever knew who had altered his driver's license to read seven years younger than he really was.
Come to think of it, the third wasn't too keen on commemorating the advancement of age either. Maybe it's a guy thing. Contrary to popular belief, my experience has shown me that we women are far better at aging gracefully. Maybe it's because we are more prone to acceptance than argument.
Whatever. All I know is that Robbie and I look forward to September the way kids anticipate December. This year, circumstances prevented us from celebrating together the way we usually do, but we did manage to squeeze in a birthday brunch and treat each other to some special chocolates (how did she manage to get me Frango mints? Dark chocolate, even!).
In the meantime, we each observed the occasion with several days of fun with family and other friends. My celebration included a little bit of romance and a lot of late night dance. And plenty of water. Although I'm a Fire Rooster according to the Chinese Zodiac, I love water, as I've written before. I find it healing, calming, deliciously sensuous.
This year's birthday theme seemed to be Water, Water Everywhere. It just happened that way. I emceed two great feel-good events, "An Ocean of Gratitude" and "Wave of Change" - the first was a volunteer recognition luncheon for Kaunoa's RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) and the latter was an awareness rally at the Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center for the Be a Jerk anti-underage drinking campaign. Mom treated me to a wonderful dinner at the Waterfront restaurant in Maalaea, and the week culminated in the perfect solo stay-cation at the Grand Wailea, with its fabulous water features and hydrotherapy spa.
55 and alive. It feels good. Old enough to know better, young enough to not care. Or maybe that should be old enough to not care. Because I am certainly more adventurous now than I was at 30. Back then, going out to dinner or dancing by myself was unthinkable. What would people say?! Now I don't care what they say. I'm 55 and alive. And alone. And loving it.
I never thought I'd be living alone at this age. I think we all go into marriage expecting, or at least hoping, to grow old together. But alone is not the same as lonely, and although widowhood has brought a few tearful moments of loneliness, the last five years have been enlightening and thoroughly enjoyable. Not to brag or anything, but I've found myself to be pretty good company.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.