Today I begin living a lie.
In respect to Jack Benny, and the millions who have followed in his footsteps, I meet the chronological milestone of 39 years alive on this planet. Still in my 30s, but painfully closer to that next identifier, I reach an age that signifies the transition from one era of my life to the next.
I reach that age that I’ll tell people is mine for the next 20 years.
It seems like only a few years ago I was in high school, driving to school with my buddies in the morning and discussing such worldly topics as flatulence and who we’d like to take to prom. Now I spend my morning drives worrying about deadlines and bills — though I admit to still pondering the intricacies of flatulence from time to time.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that life gets more and more serious every year. Gone is that innocent mindset of only concentrating on the moment at hand, replaced by the cynical outlook of experience — the belief that today is not as important as tomorrow, which, in turn, is not as important as the next day.
And so on, and so on.
I’m not entirely sure if that’s the way life is meant to be led. Certainly, we all learn over time that life can be a lot easier if we prepare and plan for every major decision. The hubris of youth is, at some unidentifiable point, replaced by humility and a firm grasp of all things bad that can happen if we don’t look under every stone before we make a move. And that is fine.
But we eventually lose sight of those things around us that use to bring us pleasure.
I was at my annual family reunion in Pennsylvania last weekend, an early-August tradition that combines the opportunity to mingle amongst loved ones with the chance to digest as much beer as a human body can muster. This year’s edition featured a gaggle of the next generation of my family — groups of small children running extremely fast with no set destination in mind, while the background music for the adults featured the sweet song of a mixture of young screams and laughter.
It’s tiring to even watch children play with that much recklessness and bravado, let alone try to keep up with the little ones. But I was also fascinated by the sheer joy in their eyes when grabbing a piece of pie, or playing with a decorative balloon or simply walking up to an adult and punching him in the belly. Let me tell you something, if I got socked one more time that day, I was going to grab the first ...
But, thankfully, I digress.
But what I saw was a reckless embrace of absolute joy. While adults may reserve this emotion for major events — such as the birth of a child, a marriage or receiving a certain special letter from Publisher’s Clearinghouse — I realized that children can find that joy in even the most trivial of activities.
I want that joy.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a happy guy, who is grateful for all life has handed me, and would not trade my life with anyone not named Tiger Woods. I have a wife I love dearly, a dream job with fantastic co-workers, two hyperactive dogs that make me laugh at least 20 times a day and a stable of friends that I would walk through fire for if the need ever arose ... well, probably.
But it takes something fairly significant to have me feeling that enthusiasm that children can seem to muster over seeing a butterfly or eating a ripe piece of watermelon. I want to see my parents and absolutely light up on the outside, because that’s largely what I’m feeling on the inside. I want to feel like I’m king of the world when I figure out something tricky with the paper or simply see a sunset that leaves me in awe.
So, that’s where I’m at — this journey for the recovery of a child’s innocence.
But, how do we find that again after spending so many years telling ourselves not to get too excited over things, because the letdown is so pronounced when it inevitably crumbles before us? Do we simply stop caring about ramifications and only concentrate on the “now”?
No. We evolve as we get older simply because we get smarter. We don’t grab hot pots off the stove or stick our tongues into electrical outlets because at some point in our lives, we’ve learned that those things hurt. We don’t assume that every person we encounter is out for our best interests, because we’ve learned that doing that can lead to trouble. And we don’t bet on the Baltimore Orioles because, well, they’re the Baltimore Orioles.
But as I begin this next chapter in my life, I do so without dread and foreboding, but with optimism and verve. I do this because of a new experience in my life — one that has taught me that if I expect bad things to happen, well, bad things tend to happen. So I embark on this new journey with hope and a feeling that I’m going to stop to take notice of all the good things going on around me and embrace it.
After all, my name is McCann — not McCan’t.