Many years ago, a colleague and I co-authored a textbook on math anxiety. Her specialty was math and mine anxiety. I went to a birthday lunch yesterday, which reminded me that my husband and I will both celebrate a high-numbered birthday this year. This brought out my anxiety about math, or at least arithmetic, as I think about the numbers of years I’ve lived and the unknown numbers of years left to me. Adding to my anxiety were recent notifications from Facebook asking me to send birthday messages to two deceased friends, and that yesterday’s total number of birthday celebrants, a group that once numbered six, was now down to four.
So why am I hung up on the numbers? I don’t feel old, nor do friends my age and older. My 95-year-old friend doesn’t feel old. In fact, a survey by the Pew Research Center reveals that sixty percent of people over sixty-five say they feel younger than their age. “Among respondents ages 65 to 74, a third say they feel 10 to 19 years younger than their age, and one-in-six say they feel at least 20 years younger than their actual age.” Do they really remember how they felt 20 years earlier? Are we deceiving ourselves or just attributing more significance to the numbers than they deserve?
At the party I asked my friends if they liked celebrating birthdays now and whether they were bothered when each new one came around. It turns out I was the only one who found these events disquieting and who preferred to ignore them. One said, “I use each birthday to reflect on my life up to that point and to feel grateful for having lived as I have this long.” Nice answer. And one to remember when my next one rolls around.
I confess that last year’s birthday had one high point: drinking rich hot chocolate with writer friends while eating Death by Chocolate cake and munching on homemade chocolate candies. The problem with this kind of celebration has to do with another number, namely the pounds I’ve added by the next day.
Ten years ago, I didn’t like the thought of turning sixty, so I decided to host a big party in my back yard complete with dinner and live music. Seventy-five people came and made it the best birthday ever. I’m starting to think it’s time to do something big again.