There is a kind of irony in having this particular week end with my birthday. Nothing slams home one's own mortality like learning three people you knew are passed on-and then waking up to realize that you are 55 years old. Irony may not be dead, but a good number of people I used to know are-and I don't feel so good myself.
The S.O. and I spent time driving north to the Rheinland yesterday. The weather started brilliantly-but as we moved into the mountains, it changed. We stopped in Ramstein for a while to continue our new car shopping adventure-then came back through the mountains stopping at a restaurant on the way home that had been recommended to us near Landau. By the time we got back to Stuttgart it was dark-which was perfect since it also coincided with my mood. Nothing like looking at 25K-40K new cars to help you realize how much of what you had once hoped to accomplish-you hadn't. Sadly, there is still an imbalance between what I want and what I can comfortably afford. Which is kind of a good analogy for the events of the last year.
Life is about choices, mostly small ones, that rise up and become big changes and constraints on your direction and circumstance. You don't realize it at the time-but later down the pike you do. I wish had better understood that in the fall of 1978-I might have saved myself some pain and a lot of money. I might be in that luxury apartment in Singapore that I so longingly dream about each day as I put on a coat and head to start the car.
Except-in the grand scheme of things-I count myself as a very lucky man, all things considered. When I honestly sit down and think about it there are really only a couple of big changes that I might have made-I would not have gotten married and I wish I had discovered Asia when I was in my 20's. While I do long to be in Asia-in an apartment in any of my favorite cities, the realities are I chose the wrong line of work to facilitate those dreams. And while it sounds nice to fantasize about chucking it all and moving to one of those locations, the nasty realities of life necessitate some necessary compromises. At least I am back overseas-on a foreign shore-and that's something of a major victory in and of itself. That much of the work that I do is pointless-doing little to advance the progress of the human race, well that's just something that has to be dealt with. Work is work-and it pays the bills. It probably has more of a point than what I was doing in Shopping Mall.
And besides, as the real estate agents say, location is everything. God willing, I will be boarding that plane to Hong Kong or Singapore soon enough. ( As I get the time and the money, I will make a "me" trip). In the meantime-the view of those places from here is better than it was in Shopping Mall USA.
As for the marrying part? Well, one of the benefits of being 55 is to have a better picture of who you are and who you are not. Some people are the marrying and family kind. Some are not. I fall into the latter category-and its not a crime to realize that or admit. Don't worry about telling the S.O., she already figured it out a long time ago. She knows-and yet we still get along OK. She has her own burdens to bear.
And as for the seeing Asia in my 20's part? I probably would not have appreciated it-not the way I did when I arrived there in my 40's. ( But it sure would have been fun to try!) Same goes with the understanding marriage part-I understand now that I am not the marrying kind of person precisely because I was married (although its clear I should have hit the "eject" handle much, much sooner). And the marriage did produce two great kids.
Much as a I try to avoid it-it seems to me that my life has gone in a path that it should have. And for that I am extremely lucky and blessed by God. Call it fate if you are a non-believer, but I like to think I have been given some great gifts by God. Even the hard times I went through at the end of my marriage seem necessary in hindsight. Without them-I would not have been set on the path that brought me to Japan and the wondrous experiences I had there. Probably like my marriage-it might have been nicer if they had been shorter and less painful, but ces't le guerre.
People ask me "Doesn't it make you sad not to be in the US and settled down?" I tell them no-and truth be told, I don't understand the premise of the question. That's not the life I want to live. I spent too many years living someone else's vision of what my life should and should not be. To have a vision for what I want-and to be getting to do most of it, if not all of it-is a thing of joy. If being in the US and settled down is what you want, then good for you. Its not for me.
An old saying of mine is that its a sin to get to have as much fun as I have gotten to have. I've come to realize that I am misspeaking when I say that. Having the fun was no sin-but complaining about getting to have that fun would be. And so I won't complain about it, rather I will celebrate it-and be thankful for being given the opportunity.
Turning 55 does mean coming to grips with certain realities though. When I do board that plane to one of my favorite places, and when I trudge up the hill to Lan Kwai Fong or the MRT steps to Raffles Place, it will be at a slower pace then I did in times past. And the days of scoring cute, shapely , Chuppie, 35 year old accountants in a party dress at China Jump are gone with wind-never to return. China Jump is gone and those days are gone for me too-because one of the things about turning 55 is coming to grips with the long slow physical decline. One just hopes its quite long and quite slow. Sometimes it is, sometimes , sadly it's not. I'm still the same young at heart soul inside-but I don't look the same-now I am just the old man at the bar, drinking in solitary thought, watching other early 40's young men score cute, shapely, 35 year old accountants in a new style of party dress. My role now will to be just to sigh and look on wistfully. (FWIW-the 35 year old Chuppie accountant in a good looking party dress is now 46 ,and married with a six year old son. Time marches on for all of us).
And then, step outside, flag a cab to Wanchai or Orchard, and hope for the best.
But it could be worse-a lot worse-and for that I will remain eternally grateful. I am the lucky man and I know it all too well.