Hallmark Cards & Bucket Lists

My 60th Birthday was yesterday, and I was caught off guard by my pensive mood of somber self-reflection. I make no secret that during a major life event I like to pause with my hand on the doorknob, take a sentimental look back and a thoughtful look forward, think about the differences … before I step through and pull the door behind me. Some call this closure. I do this when changing jobs, moving, my divorce, the passing of a loved one; but always based on an event.

A day is just a day ….

BDay1I rebel against “Hallmark Holidays”, denying Wall Street money from my loved ones. At my first job, I learned the concept of a “Fiscal Year”; ours was June to June. I remember “Christmas in July” sales with Santa in swim trunks. Due to my dad’s work, as a kid we might open presents on Dec 23rd or 26th some years. When Jesse was little, I taught him to buy Halloween & Easter candy at 8am “the day after” for big markdowns. Back when Lyn worked in a call center, I had her volunteer to “cover” holidays, then we simply celebrated “the day after” in a nice quiet restaurant. And I will NEVER dine out on “Mother’s Day”, the worse for service, cost, and wait.

Years ago I read about a mom whose daughter was born Dec 24th, in a family “big on birthdays”. That wasn’t fair so they chose her “named Saint’s Day” which fell in mid-April to celebrate. It was perfect weather and separate from other birthdays & holidays. But they might have used an equinox, grandma’s birthday, her half-year day who cares? She had a small recognition in December then her turn for a big bash came April. At age 10 I was astounded to see a wise parent forge her own path. A birthday isn’t a physical day, it is the concept of celebrating YOU; from sunup to sunset.

BDay2My birthday falls in the middle of summer, so while kids in elementary school had a day of song and mom’s cupcakes … I was lumped in the “summer group”. It was weird. We were often traveling on that actual day, so I might receive a candle at a diner in some strange town. A party? My friends would be on their family vacations if we weren’t on ours. THAT … has been my life experience, and my attitude to birthday dates … and to “Hallmark Holidays” in general. A celebration is about why … and how … not when.

I want to measure my life by accomplishments & events & memories … not by counting solar cycles. A random Thursday in the middle of summer seems absurd to “celebrate”. I want my friends to drop me a note from the blue, when they see or hear something that brings me to their thoughts, or when just reminiscing.


Each summer we talk about my pending birthday, but about 2 weeks ago I realized this year was going to be different; that turning 60 was itself a milestone. I started a new joke: “If I’m going to get it done before 60, I’ve got two weeks …”, one week, three days, tomorrow. The punch line was cure cancer, get a law degree, or “climb Mt Kilimanjaro”.

BDay3As of this morning, my bucket list is closed. This year my party can be anytime, but my birthday itself can’t be just … moved. A waitress pointed out: just start a “do it by 70” bucket list. I chuckled as this is the old Franklin Planner. Every Monday you look at last week’s goals, check off the completed ones, then rewrite any you still take serious. By rewriting the goals, by hand, in ink, every Monday you had to ask “Do  I really intend to ever do this?” Am I really going to write this thing down, then write it down again next week? Do I really intend to climb Mt Kilimanjaro?

Yesterday was sobering, which surprised me. My special dinner is set for Friday night and my BOGO “Birthday coupons” are good for another week or two. But it was yesterday that I stood in the doorway and looked at my life as I turned 60. My solar anniversary is good for only one thing: accountability.

The Ugly Truth

Today, I still sit where I was 2, almost 3 years ago. Yes, I have done this or that, but the plans and goals that I made and changed and lost and found have been elusive, have melted away, have vaporized, were false, or were overtaken by events. One by one they appeared. One by one they are gone. The only reality these last years has been the tick of the clock, the turning of the calendar’s page, the dripping from the bottom of leaky bank accounts.

In chess there are standard openings, “end game” strategies, and the vast middle where a player just tries to “gain advantage”. As one by one each “end game” plan or vision slipped away (moving, relocating, building, contract work, rental property, small business) I still knew that certain things must be done. I must “gain advantage” in this life. After all, you must get to Marvin Gardens if you intend to one day advance to Boardwalk (even if you’re not quite sure which “Boardwalk”).

So, I have focused on things that must get done, no matter what. And THAT is a success. I have switched my meds, and reinstalled phone apps to track my time and focus. I’m paying attention to my weight & exercise (probably not enough). I have project plans and task lists, with no actual goal beyond some nebulous undefined “future success”.  This very first day of being a “60 something” (“60 is the new 40”) I sit here full of energy, full of potential, full of ideas … but still moving forward only in blind faith; faith that when I get there some obvious solution will reveal itself.

Yes, I am pensive today. Its because I’m not ready to write my new bucket list.

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