There are a lot of things I miss about being a kid. Recess, for one. Nap time. Saturday morning cartoons, and summers at my grandfather’s house. But I think the thing I miss most is the feeling that my whole life was ahead of me. Every experience was a first, and life seemed so infinite that I thought I might never run out of new things to see, feel and do.
There was my first snowfall--my mom and I were living in a single-wide trailer at the time, and I can remember looking out the window at the field in front of our home, blanketed by a foot and a half of fresh powder. I wanted to go out and play in it, so she bundled me up and sent the dog and I on our way. Unfortunately, I was only about 3 feet tall at the time, so the snow came up to my waist. I took one step off the front stoop and promptly got stuck.
There was my first kiss--her name was April McCuen, and I met her at church camp. I remember at service one afternoon, I knelt next to one kid with Leukemia and another who’d just lost his parents and said ‘God, if you answer just one prayer today, let it be mine…let April kiss me before the end of the week.’ Funnily enough, it worked. On the last day of camp, her mom’s station wagon pulled up alongside me, and the passenger window rolled down.
“Come here,” she said.
Unsuspecting, I leaned in. She grabbed my face and planted a big wet one right on my lips. Unfortunately, in the seconds preceding, I’d stuffed three fourths of a bag of salt and vinegar chips in my mouth. The shock of the unexpected smooch caused me to stumble backwards and exhale at the same time, spraying her face with a thin layer of wet crumbs. Horrified, she rolled up her window and the car sped away. I spent the whole year hoping I’d have a chance to explain, but by the time next summer rolled around, she was pregnant. At 13.
Oh well, guess I dodged that bullet.
There was even the first time I broke up with someone on the spot--it was the girl I dated right after high school. We were out to eat one night, and just as I put a hot wing covered in bleu cheese into my mouth, she pointed at the bleu cheese and said:
“I had a yeast infection one time that looked exactly like that.”
I was mortified. I looked down at the bleu cheese, then back at her, then back at the bleu cheese, and then back at her. In that moment, all I could think to say was:
“Yeahhh, I don’t think this is gonna work.”
I took her home, and never saw her again. And I didn’t eat bleu cheese for over a decade.
OK, so maybe they weren’t always good firsts…but they were new experiences and, to me, that’s a central part of life: growth; evolution; becoming a more complete version of yourself through unique and unprecedented exploits.
So you can understand why I was a little depressed a couple of weeks ago when I turned 31. It wasn’t so much the number that had me down; I just felt like I was running out of firsts. I’d already been to Europe and gotten married; I passed the Bar Exam and won my first case; I’ve acted in a movie, been on TV, sang in a band and gotten VD….oh wait, nevermind; I haven’t done that last one.
The point is, I suddenly started feeling like more of my life was behind me than ahead, and that was a truly frightening feeling. It stuck with me for days. I had trouble eating, trouble sleeping, trouble getting motivated to do even the simplest of things, like shave.
Fortunately, facial hair looks pretty good on me…so no harm done there.
Of course, eventually my rational side caught up to my irrational side (I like to call her Sheila), and I realized that I still have plenty of new experiences to partake in before I can consider myself officially over the hill. But just in case I ever start to feel like I’m running out of firsts again, I decided to make myself a little list of things that I still have yet to do. It helped me feel better about getting older….who knows, maybe it’ll help you too:
1. Get a piece of my writing published.
2. Become a father.
3. Run a marathon.
4. Travel to every continent (3 down, 4 to go).
5. Take a cruise.
6. Donate a kidney (selling it on the black market would be acceptable too).
7. Build a home (burning said home down for the insurance money optional).
8. Attend the Super Bowl, Olympics and World Cup.
10. Get in a heated argument at dinner where my date throws her wine on me.
11. Swim with dolphins.
12. Climb a mountain.
13. Learn to like fruits and vegetables (so far I’ve got most green veggies down, but that’s about it).
14. Spend the night in a haunted house--by myself.
15. Experience weightlessness.
16. Drive as fast as I can on the Autobahn.
17. Run for office.
18. Get caught in a sex scandal while running for said office.
19. Make a hole-in-one.
20. Catch a foul ball or homerun at a baseball game.
21. Build a giant sandcastle (and sleep in it, weather permitting).
22. Join the mile-high club.
23. Anonymously make someone’s dreams come true.
24. Be a mentor.
And my personal favorite:
25. Get banned from Applebees.
It’s not a complete list--I’m sure I’ll add to it as time goes on. And hopefully, I’ll take some stuff off of it too. But just having it makes me feel better, because it reminds me that no matter old you get or how many experiences you have, there’s still a lifetime’s worth of living to do. And that’s a beautiful thing.