On Turning 30

Webster's Dictionary probably defines “thirty” (aka XXX) as: one whom having learned a ton, knows very little.

I’m turning thirty today. Basically, all that means is that I’ve managed to escape death for a little less than 11,000 days. And today, I’m starting my 31st year of living. I was lucky to be born in the mid-eighties because it saved me from falling into the death trap of horrible music that is the preferred taste of everyone born post 1995. I will be able to die with a clean conscience having never dabbed (wtf) or ridden on of those ridiculous “hoverboards” (I use quotations because they don’t even hover) that are killing so many innocent people. Turning thirty means I have been living mostly embarrassment-free for about a decade (terrible hair aside).

I have a few pictures of me on my first birthday. I was sitting in one of those things with wheels and a seat that holds you up by the crotch. You flail your baby feet around and you go in one direction or the other. I may have looked mobile (some would even say badass), but if I’m telling the truth, I had no idea how to steer that thing. I couldn’t use a fork so the only way to eat my cake was to smear my open mouth back and forth on plastic table top of my high chair. I seemed happy enough in the photos. I was so unaware at my first birthday party that I can’t even remember if I had teeth and THAT’S how you know it was a great party. There are a couple pictures of my birth mother and I (no selfies though). 

The first birthday I can remember is when I turned six. That was 43 days after my mom died. I mostly remember when my dad told me that my mom wasn’t coming home from the hospital. I’ll spare you the sob story, it’s just important to know that the event would forever become the thing I associated Christmas and my birthday with. I could never really shake that for some reason.

I don’t remember which birthday it was when my new mom tied string around donuts and hung them from our tree in the backyard. She made me and the rest of the kids at the party eat the donuts without our hands (and shirtless, as the photographs remind me). One year Harrison Gilming and I ate so much whip cream directly from the can that we threw up in the yard. I remember not getting the break dancing themed birthday party I asked for (because Kevin Chapman and I used to be b-boyz). And in high school my new mom did me a solid by having all of us play a game were we passed lifesavers from person to person using only the toothpicks in between our lips. I was sure to stand between Scarlet and Charity just in case the flow of the lifesavers was reversed. Win/ win. Nailed it, mom.

I remember turning twenty one. I have never been much a of a partier so not much changed that fateful night… not nearly as much as I would have imagined for all the hoopla built up around becoming an adult who can now both join the military AND drink alcohol. All smoke, no fire. My girlfriend at the time threw me that party. She was a handful of years older than me, and I was just glad to be able to a order a beer. On the first day we hung out when I was twenty, she ordered a wine and I remember sitting there feeling like such a little kid ordering “just a coke please”. That was about the extent of my problems that turning 21 fixed.

I’ve had this idea for about a decade now that one way of making the world a better place would be to take every white American male and surround him with his best friends on his 21st and 30th birthdays. As they stand around him, barricading him in, his best friend steps forward. We are going to beat the shit out of you for 30 seconds. We won’t aim for the face or the genitals, okay? You see, it’s easy to forget that you need other people. It’s easy to start thinking that you’ve arrived or that you’re stronger than everyone else. And it’s only after a person builds themselves up that they become a nightmare to everyone subservient to them. Remember that we love you- we swear we do- but you need to be reminded that you are small and weak. Now cover your head and hold your breath.

As it turns out, if you have good friends (I mean the kind that don’t let you get away with anything) the above exercise is unnecessary. I’ve had the same best friend for a little over ten years at this point. We’ve maybe had one argument ever- and I’m saying one even though I can’t remember a single one. A good friend can really shape your whole life. A good best friend teaches you one of the most important lessons one can learn:

Kick your own ass so no one else has to. 

So what have I learned?

1. Love is simple. Or at least it should be. One should, however, keep in mind that just because love is simple, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Big difference. W.H. Auden said it best: If equal affection cannot be, may the more loving one be me. This makes being a father and a husband seem possible and exciting.

2. You will never be well-rested. But so what. You will always be tired. This is actually part of a college graduation speech that I keep in my back pocket in the event I am asked to deliver a commencement speech. However, Arcade Fire said it best: Sleeping in’s giving in- no matter what the hour.

3. Suffering should be shared. Someone you know hurts themselves. People are punishing themselves for being fat. Others are using box cutters on their forearms. People you love are hunched over toilet bowls. Victims are in turn victimizing themselves and others. It’s easy to fall out of love with yourself. You are lovely, but do you know it?

4. The truth need not console you. Truth doesn’t have an ego. It waits patiently to be discovered. It doesn’t wave a white flag. As you move closer to it, it seems to travel a million miles away. This is why we pursue it. We are constantly looking and chasing and wondering and this… this is the gift. But don’t bend what you cannot know around your agenda lest you be forced to either change or remain in the dark. Pluto isn’t a planet anymore. OR IS IT?!

5. I am the wave- I am never the rock. Love comes when you least suspect it. Nothing revolves around me. Everything would move on just fine without me. However, I have learned to embrace, and thrive in, my impermanence. My limits do not threaten me precisely because I can’t do anything about them.

6. You can’t make everyone happy, but it takes bravery to try. Peoples dissatisfaction with themselves or others is really none of your business. Love them and help them anyways. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t like you or if they even like you. Be honest whenever given the chance. Be generous with the gifts you’ve been given so that every one can get in on them. Jesus said that.

7. I am mostly wrong. About God. About what I should be afraid off. Of how the human body works. Or how old the earth is and how huge the universe is. About what the psalmist meant. About everything. And while you and I may be FRACTIONALLY correct (I’m talking .00000000000001 percent) it is important to remember that First Causes and meaning and physics and space are so much more complex and unpredictable than we could ever hope to understand. What a gift humility and wonder are as we scale the foothills of this mountain.

I don’t want to mince words. Life has never made sense to me, but I have fallen madly in love with it. Powerless to stop it I have learned to dance with it. When my best efforts at controlling it have failed it is at that moment that she walks over, kisses the top of my head and tells me she’s praying for me. It is when the idea of racing through this life to get to another one is too much for me that I am reminded that heaven can be here- all around me. And I know that I may seem like I’m being a little emotional or sentimental or whatever, but I really mean it. This idea that life is better somewhere else, for someone else? No way. I want that here- I want to be a part of it. Part of a community of people facing the music and chasing progress and building great furniture and being generous with their neighbors and still managing to ask each other about our hopes and dreams. This year I fell in love with a woman who just drowns me in joy- the kind of gal who you’d build a house for. Last year I thought my heart was dead and buried. 

Don’t you see? This is why you have to turn thirty! Because sometimes it takes that long to learn how to author a decent apology or a love song or actually see that business idea come to life. I know that in the next however-many years I will inch closer and closer to a casket. I know that I will have gotten several dozen bad haircuts and I will lose someone I love when I least expect it. But I also know that I light up the room when I have an open heart (and a bottle of wine). I know that my hunger for justice and humanity and my respect for what I have yet to learn puts me in the middle of the goddamn fight.

Embrace inconvenience. 

My best friend taught me that.

Best,

Ryan Alexander