Hello Readers. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Yes, in the spirit of the holiday season—you know comfort and joy and peace and harmony and all that---SGIA is squeezing in a bonus post prior to the big Bachelor season premier on January 2. It’s been a short time since we last chatted. In fact, if you’re getting here worrying about Nick’s impending Bachelor season, please see the post prior to this one. SGIA Rates the Ladies.
Oddly enough, however, I was not driven to write today by our favorite reality series. You see, my birthday falls at the beginning of December and, as many people at my stage of life are so inclined to do, I wondered what I’d accomplished, if anything, over the past year of my life, indeed over my lifetime.
Normally, one would find cause to celebrate one’s date of birth, although I often feel as if my own mother should celebrate in my stead in light of the fact that she gestated me and eventually endured the pain of childbirth for not only me, but my twin brother on that date. What in the hell do I have to celebrate?
Rather than feeling glad this year I awoke to greet the date of my nativity with quiet introspection—even a bit of sadness. At any rate, I’m choosing—for my own edification mostly—to sort out my feelings here for all of the Internet to see. If you’re more partial to my anatomy jokes and filthy puns, please skip this post and tune in next week when the Bachelor starts. I’ll be back on my reality show horse by then. If you choose to continue reading, please humor me.
As I was saying, I awoke feeling a bit sad on my birthday. It wasn’t an overt sadness; rather, it was the intangible kind of sadness we all experience on the occasions we know something is simply “off” in our world. It was like when Luke Skywalker gets a bit twitchy every time Darth Vader is nearby. Try as I might, like the captain of my high school girls’ cheerleading squad, I simply could not get my arms around it no matter how badly I wanted to. I was upset and I could not figure out why.
There were many factors operating there, I suppose. First off, anyone with a December birthday can attest to getting short-changed in the gift department so close to the big Christmas season: a season that seems to expand every year like the collective American waistline or the collagen-filled lips of the Real Housewives of [insert major city here]. “Christmas” used to be three weeks away from my birthday but now there are just three weeks left to shop until Christmas Day.
Hell, if you’re too lazy to drop the egg nog and get up off the couch, you’re a laptop keystroke or two away from enduring a grueling two hour wait for home delivery of just about anything you want (including more egg nog) from Amazon Prime. It’s amazing and horrifying all at the same time.
Incidentally, I’m convinced that Mrs. SGIA is about to get her own drone assigned to her by Amazon Prime. There were fewer bombs dropped on Dresden than the number of packages that have been dropped on my front porch since that bullshit was invented.
So, what’s bothering me about my birthday?
Maybe it’s the gift thing.
There are many iterations of the gifting process for a December birthday. Throw in a twin brother (I have one) and a very modest upbringing and my birthday gift usually resembled an effort to literally and figuratively split the baby between my big day and the impending bigger day three weeks down the road. As an adult, I can tell all of you with a straight face that the only thing that I really want for my birthday these days is to be left alone to do exactly what I want to do for the entire day. I have a very Jack LaLane-like habit of attempting a feat of strength on my birthday every year. Granted, I don’t pull a rowboat filled with beautiful women across Lake Travis with a rope in my teeth (not this year, anyway), but an extended run or hike usually suffices to narrowly convince me each year that I haven’t aged at all.
Fortunately, I’ve been blessed (at least for now) to be able to purchase just about anything I want for myself in real time rather than waiting for my birthday; and other than a couple of obsessions involving German cars and Swiss watches which I’ll discuss in a moment, I really don’t want for anything material. Sure, I own the obligatory hand-tailored lawyer suits (blue, pinstripe, etc.) and ties which I avoid wearing unless I absolutely have to look pretty, but the majority of the time I’m wearing one of 2 pairs of jeans, a pair of Carhart work pants, a pearl snap shirt, and (cowboy) boots.
The instant material gratification that my life provides me is a comfort that I did not know for many years prior and it certainly wasn’t a comfort I knew as a child. I’m also not arrogant or naïve enough to think that all of it couldn’t go away in a moment’s notice. So it’s not the gift thing that is bothering me.
Maybe it’s the age thing.
As I contemplated my impending age change, I couldn’t help but think of my father. How did he define “success” and what were the great joys of his life? He was, and is, a bastion of consistency and has chosen to lead by example for his entire tenure as our father rather than lecturing me and my siblings about life’s great mysteries from the comfort of a Lazy Boy chair and a glass of bourbon. By all standards, he is a blue collar worker who sacrificed a lot of his own comforts for the sake of his family.
Unlike me, I never—literally never—saw him buy anything for himself other than a pair of inexpensive running shoes and shorts when he decided to begin running at the local health club. I suppose that could be construed as selfish, but with the perspective on my childhood my life now provides me, I now realize that it was more about being there to socialize with my friends and me who literally lived at the health club after school and in the Summer. Staying in shape was incidental.
I recalled when my father turned my age and, as any child is apt to do, used his life as a measuring stick against my own. And while I cannot measure up to my father in more ways than I can, I believe I have essentially achieved what he sacrificed in order to for me to have the opportunity to achieve. I take great comfort in knowing that he (presumably) views me as a successful product of his (and my mother’s) wishes for me.
So, it’s not the age thing that’s bothering me.
Maybe it’s the twin thing
Most people’s reaction when I reveal that I have a twin falls into two categories. The first, and inevitably annoying category always involves one of the following questions, “Can you tell what he’s thinking and feeling all of the time,” or “did you ever switch places on your teachers,” or something equally as fatuous. The answer to all of those is a simple “no.”
The second, and far more complicated reaction, is a comment on how “neat” it must be to be a twin and how “special” our relationship must be.
For those of you who have been reading me since 2009 (yes, 2009) when I started this blog, you’ll scratch your collective head trying to remember when, if at all, I have written about being a twin. Sure, I’ve mentioned it in passing or when it’s a necessary detail in a story, but I have never written about my relationship with my twin brother.
Frankly, there is no relationship. We live less than 6 miles apart in Austin and I rarely see him with the exception of brief, ten minute stints where our paths cross at our parents’ house or perhaps at one of my nephews’ extracurricular events—which I am informed of usually at the last minute in a coincidental call to my parents who happen to be getting ready to attend.
I have never given or received a birthday gift to or from him. We don’t call each other. We don’t have dinner. We don’t socialize. We rarely, if ever, occupy the same room. He doesn't find me remotely interesting and he hardly thinks I am amusing.
As disheartening as all of those statements are, I could not provide any of you with a reason as to why. You see, I tried—really hard—for years to mend a relationship that I had no idea was as broken as it is. I apologized to him for whatever it was he thought I’d done to wrong him. I wrote him several letters—all of which were unrequited. I spoke to mutual friends, family, his wife, and others seeking an intervention. None of it has worked. In fact, over the past 10 years or so, his demeanor toward me has gone from indifference, to mild annoyance, to (as it stands today) outright vitriolic hostility.
I used to lose a lot of sleep trying to figure it out. I used to have hope that the relationship would simply right itself much the same way a rocking ship eventually steadies itself and again begins to move forward rather than aimlessly listing from side to side in danger of capsizing. However, over time I have come to realize the simple truth.
Occam’s Razor, which may be stated many ways, stands for the proposition that the simplest explanation for any problem is usually the correct one. The bottom line and the simplest explanation is that my brother just doesn’t like me. He doesn’t like me as a person, a brother, a friend, a twin, a lawyer, a blogger, or a human being. Period. That's just the way it is. I suppose I accepted that reality some time ago.
It’s not the twin thing that’s bothering me.
So what is it?
The only thing perhaps more joyful and inspiring than watching a child run is actually being that running child. There is great joy in watching a small child experience even simple things for the first time. A sunset, a roller coaster, a jack in the box, or even the feel of sand between the toes can elicit unabashed, uncontrollable joy and wonder in the face of a child. As we move through life our once sharpened senses are dulled. Our experiences arm us with knowledge while simultaneously robbing us of our ability to be unabashedly and uncontrollably surprised. This is true of our first steps, our first kiss, or our first glimpse of the Grand Canyon. Eventually, the bar we need to reach in order to experience that sense of wonder is raised, with few exceptions, well beyond our reach. The dust settles and the view clears for miles around.
I am no longer a small child and, run all I may run, I cannot replace the feeling I once had sprinting down the basketball court or gritting my teeth with all of my strength as I ran as fast as I could physically run for the white paper banner 100 meters down the track. I can no longer experience the burst of energy that went through my body when I jumped above the rim and dunked a basketball through the hoop or the rush of spiking a volleyball over the net and watching it zing past my opponent’s outstretched arms leaving a divot in the sand. I no longer struggle to put on a tuxedo, tie a tie, wonder where I will get into college, or pray that the girl that I like will call me back.
I mentioned earlier that I have a bit of an obsession with Swiss watches (I own 13) and German cars (I have owned 14 of them over the years). My aforementioned twin brother would chalk that all up to my desire to appear “important” and to “impress” other people. However, that’s not at all what is at the heart of my ownership of those material things.
I have a significant appreciation for and a fascination with the craftsmanship and quality of those particular watches and cars. They rival all of their competition and consistently perform at the highest level possible. They are beautiful, carefully made, and as close to perfect machines as can be made. I think of that attention to detail, the countless failures, and the trial and error that spawned the incremental improvements that ultimately lead to the end product each time I look at the time, fasten my seatbelt, or put my car in gear.
Swiss watches and German cars are far from status symbols that I covet in an attempt to pretend to be something that I am not. Ironically, my affection for them stems from the fact that they are a manifestation of something I can never be. They maintain a level of precision and balance that I can never attain and they are the result of conscious, deliberate planning, design, and execution. In other words, everything my life is not.
So, am I depressed and what was the result of my birthday self-examination?
I’m not depressed. Far from it. Allow me to summarize my birthday epiphany. In the holiday spirit, I’ll close by tying it all together in a neat little bow for you to unwrap.
I realized that experiencing the inescapable lament of life’s irreversible mistakes, lapses in judgment, and horrendous failures is a necessary and worthwhile undertaking provided it is not an exercise completely in self-loathing. Indeed, dwelling on the past for the sake of regretting the past is a useless exercise. However, it is impossible to deny that the sum of a person’s past is undoubtedly the foundation for his future.
The goal is the attainment of perspective rather than the loss of hope. The goal is reaching a level of comfort that allows a person to truly accept himself for who he was, who he has become, and where he is capable of going. There is a comfort in finding a favorite chair in the house or sitting in a lawn chair in the driveway and yelling at people to get off the lawn. Remember that the next time a cranky old man yells at you to get off his lawn.
I’ve now reached a place in life that defines many people and I have seen that place hit people around me hard enough to cause them great worry, even panic. I, myself, do not consider myself a member of either the great worry or panic camps, yet there is a constant sense of urgency in my thoughts. There is a restlessness that I cannot quiet. What am I---and apparently many others my age—seeking?
The short answer is more Life.
I realized in what alcoholics refer to as a Moment of Clarity that the life I have lived so far is no longer a life of endless possibility. I am no longer closer to the starting line than I am to the finish line gathering wood and bricks to build my house. The house is built.
My existence has, for the first time, become “my life”. And that realization is one that includes the harsh reality that many of the dreams that once drove me forward have now vanished or are relegated to nothing more than mere impossibility. They are stories for high school reunions or anecdotes for my children to hear. The life that I saw for myself as a young man, the life that was filled with possibility, the life that was meant to be something great now resides somewhere beyond where I exist. I am “here” and this is my life.
As I put the finishing touches on this post, it is now Christmas Eve in Austin, Texas. There is always something a bit odd looking at Christmas lights or strolling through the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park and sweating because of the temperature outside. None of the Christmas classics blaring over the radio seem to contain lyrics that fit my reality. The weather outside is far from frightful and snow is nowhere to be found in any other place than on my television screen. It almost makes me want to fly elsewhere to really experience Christmas.
However, upon second thought, it is strolling through the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park and sweating because of the temperature outside that makes Christmas . . . well, Christmas, here in Austin. It is the exception to convention and the unique juxtaposition of snowflake lights, plastic snowmen, and a jolly fat guy in a heavy red suit and fur-lined leather boots amongst green grass, mild temperatures, and Christmas shoppers carrying bags of gifts from the storefront to their cars in shorts and t-shirts that makes me love the holidays in Austin and the Texas Hill Country. It is the same juxtaposition of my continuous and inevitable aging and my increasing appreciation of the simplest things in my life that makes me content with who I am.
I realized that it was not sadness or disappointment that I felt at all. No. Rather the feeling was tantamount to the feeling a person has on the first morning he awakes when, after grieving for some time, he no longer feels sadness over the loss of a relationship, a great betrayal, or a staggering tragedy.
Rather than relief, there is almost a sense of surprise and an immediate counter-intuitive longing for the sadness that has for all recent memory dominated every thought and tainted every experience for a long while to return to the void its (seemingly) sudden absence has left behind. Fortunately, it is usually a peacefulness, a happiness, that eases its way into that void, eventually, over time.
The eventual total and complete loss of my youth is something I cannot avoid. I am praying that peace, contentment, and happiness will all ease their way into that void and I pray that the perspective that I have gained through age will allow me to foster that process. I pray the same for all of you, no matter what stage of your life that you are in on this Christmas Eve.
Take care of yourselves. Stay safe. Appreciate what you have beyond what things you possess. Use your Christmas money to indulge yourself in something simple that you love. Tell at least two people that you love them. Hold the door open for a stranger. Have a happy and safe holiday season, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Thank you all for making my life a bit more fulfilling and a lot more interesting over the past year. We'll chat on January 3.