Tilting the hourglass to the side, holding my breath passing cemeteries, jumping on every backyard trampoline I encounter, yep, all of those tactics. They’ve suppressed that reality. The stark truth that time passes. Birthdays slap that reality across your face. Disguised as Facebook well wishes and friendly texts perpetuating the fight against time… “There’s no way you are ____ (insert age).”
My preferred birthday celebration looks very like any preferred celebration: adventure. Starting at 30 I recruited mis amigos to a ski destination. A first-time—visited ski area that I’d commemorate with a new patch on my soon-to-be technicolor jacket. After 6 patches turned a black jacket into a confused billboard, I abandoned the ski hills. Time. “The thief you cannot banish,” as Phyllis McGinley said.
This year, like last, I spent the celebrated day in the desert outside Tucson, AZ. Unlike last year, I was alone. Inspired by the transitional state brought on by the passing of a business, the creation of a new, and the development into a higher-level coach I chased the day’s end pedaling on the Arizona Trail. No music. No distractions. Just the desert, an occasional herd of cattle, and a landscape stretching across ignorant borders.
While friendly texts continued to jump across my bike computer’s screen I fell into the meditative state found hours into a long ride. That point where the task becomes autonomic and the mind can explore unknown corners of consciousness. Buried in those nooks the thoughts pushed aside, shelved in darkness, find light. They breathe. On my birthday solo-adventure, a speck in the Sonoran desert, one thought persisted through the rest. That thought, my greatest fear, sought center stage. Death.
The act of dying isn’t the fear. Not the fiery crash, the slow decline, or the painful letting go. No. The fear roots in my great love of life. The adventure. The unknown. The opportunity. The world needs explored and yet-done experiences need stories. Death means an end of those chances. So the fear of death scares me not into submission but into action. Fear though. All the same.
The morning before this dark nook exploring pedal driven meditation I sat, traditionally, with my book and coffee. Entertained, and at times appalled, by a geriatric’s romp across borderland Mexico and into the Mexican countryside I’ve met some real characters. Some hilarious and others wise. One of the latter sharing an end-of-life realization. Her fear of dying inspired her to bury the undeniable truth that we all end. So, when her end came near, she acted surprised. Surprise quickly turning to foolishness for in her words, “one would be foolish to be surprised by the thing that comes to us all.” Her regret? Not facing her pending death, daily. Looking at it squarely, accepting it, and living with that truth in mind. No dark corners used for hiding.
Tacky shirts scream “Carpe Diem”. Coined phrases inspiring you to live now lay across landscape images of beaches, mountains, and sky. Surface level reminders to live that fail to attach the fear component that surprised the elderly Oaxacan woman. I yearned to honor that fear.
Pedaling now, 4 hours in, my mind doing more work than my legs. Light to the dark nook brought clarity to the fear. Instantly I knew the rest of my birthday activities.
And that is how I landed at Black Rose Tattoo in downtown Tucson on a dark January 27th night. That is where I met the fully tattooed artist who’s name was never shared. Our conversations short, purposeful. Her commitment to her craft and my commitment to myself. Face death. Honor its eventual presence. Live without fear.
“Peligro en la demora.” A Spanish saying meaning danger is in the delay. A skull and a motto. Placed in eyesight when my hands grip the bike. A mantra. A symbol of growth. Peligro en la demora. Wherever fear brings doubt, do not delay.
Happy birthday to me. You look exactly your age.