Most people who know me well are aware how much I tend to not celebrate my own birthday. I'm sure there are deep reasons for this, but I've never really dug into my psyche to really put a finger on it. For the most part, I don't like attention for something I feel that I didn't actually do. Yes, I managed to survive another trip around the sun, but I'd rather get recognition for things I've done, not just surviving. However, surviving sometimes is a tough task. I'll also admit that I'm having to work on accepting praise for the things I actually do, but that is something I have no problem working on.
All that said, today, by many people's standards, is a milestone birthday. I'm forty. I've been thinking about that off and on for the past few weeks, the approach of a number that as a child I thought was a marker of being a full-fledged adult. That is not to say that has been my opinion over the past few years. I've come to realize, as many have, that these days reaching forty is almost what thirty was when our parents were hitting the same age. Needless to say, I'm taking this birthday in stride and, outside of some lingering opinions to the contrary, feel like I'm actually about ten years younger than I actually am.
What I really have been thinking about has less to do with my birthday, but more to do with past and future, though. I jokingly made a comment to a friend that I was just celebrating being twenty for the second time, which in a way is true, and I got to thinking about some similarities. That comment, along with a photograph posted by my mother of me just before my 20th birthday, really made me realize an almost cyclical way life goes.
The image that made me start pondering things was one taken on a trip to Martha's Vineyard while in college. I was with a group of students from the photography department at Northeastern University, where I was a student at the time. It was morning, foggy, and cool as the mornings in early May typically are there. Everything was fresh and new that morning, including yours truly. Beyond remembering the trip itself and the good times that we had over the long weekend, it occurred to me what lay ahead in the very near future for almost-twenty me.
In July of 1998, the same kid in that photograph took off on a trip that would be, at least in hindsight, life changing. A month after my 20th birthday I was landing in Rome, Italy, gathering my bags to hop on a bus to Viterbo. The month of July would be spent taking a class not only in photography, but also an experiential one in culture, people, and myself. A good bit of what I would learn, as it usually does, would not be evident to me until much later in life, but as a younger person I was still a sponge soaking up knowledge as much subconsciously as consciously.
To this day I still tell stories and fondly remember the time that I spent in Viterbo and the surrounding area. I enjoyed it so much that when I returned to Italy eleven years later, I had to go back. As a college student I was still very much the invincible young person, not afraid to travel alone in a place I knew very little of the language. Although I had some moments of caution, I still am amazed how much time I spent drinking wine from a box with three Iraqis, two of whom only spoke Arabic, outside of the train station in Milan. I must have been a little stupid in that choice, because my other memory from that day was the Finnish girl I had met on the train earlier walking by and making sure that I was actually safe.
Life was an open book that summer, as most of life was back then. I went hiking in Switzerland, watched the Tour de France on TV in a small mountain village, ate dinner at various people's houses along with their families, and got to watch the World Cup Final in a cave with about twelve other people. Some of these things I think back on and realize you can't make up something as interesting as that. What I realize more as I get older, though, is how truly fortunate I, and others who were there with me, was to have these experiences.
Now I fast-forward to today. It's June 9, twenty years later and I'm less than a month away from another adventure thanks to photography. I think I've mentioned it before, but this July I'm off to France for The Photography Master Retreat. The differences are there for sure, beyond my age. I'll only be in France for two weeks, not a month. I definitely will not be drinking wine, Iraqis or not; and unless I luck out, there will probably be no World Cup matches screened in caves (But if I find it, I'll be there). However, like 20 year old me, I'm looking forward to this adventure.
France, like Italy twenty years prior, will be completely new to me. Although I've flown through Paris, I've never spent time in France. To top it all off, I'll have to drive from Paris to southern France for the program, so the adventure starts immediately when I get there. I'd love to say that I know what I'm in for, but although I like to be as prepared as possible, the mystery of not knowing is what I look forward to the most. On top of that, I've developed my process of working in a way that works hand in hand with having extremely loose plans.
The past has fed and nurtured the future. Although I try not to dwell on the past, I can't deny that it informs the present and the future. Even though I try to keep it low key on my birthday, I can't help but think about things past. Today, however, I'm glad that I was reminded of a day that I was younger, looking to a future I was very much unaware of. I had hopes and dreams, some of which I have seen come true, others which never panned out, but it was for the better. What I realized today, though, looking forward once again to a similar experience that I had twenty years prior, is that the future is just as promising. I'm embracing this. I just hope that at 60 the feeling is similar.