New York City is a mess when it rains. The stairs leading down into the subway become slippery hazards, taxi cabs splash pedestrians as they zoom through puddles, and the city seems to be in an even crankier mood than usual. I imagine rainy days in places like Portland and Seattle to be a mix of dreamy romance and creative nuance. Here they are a train wreck of traffic jams and getting jabbed in the back of your head by umbrellas as you wait for the bus. Perhaps the only good thing about the rain is that, in good mid-Atlantic fashion, it conjures up a fog that prevents us from seeing New Jersey (that was a joke…kind of).
The one good thing about the rain is that it clears most people out of Central Park creating a haven of solitude for those willing to don a good pair of rain boots and risk getting a little wet. The park is most peaceful when it rains, a sanctuary of winding paths and meticulous landscaping.
Tomorrow is my birthday and I have mixed feelings about this one. When you’re younger, birthdays are a fun celebration of cake, balloons, and, if you’re lucky, a trip to Chuck E Cheese (because nothing says “it’s your special day” like video game joysticks covered in pizza grease). As you get older, birthdays can become another reminder that there’s a shelf life for your dreams and that some deeply held hopes might be past their expiration date.
Will I get married?
Is it too late to go back to school for that other degree?
Will I ever feel satisfied in my career?
Am I too old to have children?
Like New York City in the rain, birthdays have the potential to become treacherous and tricky messes to navigate, just one wrong step away from a tumble down the slippery stairs of regret and missed opportunities. That’s one way to look at it, at least.
The other way to view things is through the lens of hopeful appreciation — a sort of walk in the park on a rainy day — kind of view. Sure, there are downsides to birthdays like realizing your metabolism will not let you eat half of that pizza without requiring you to purchase a new pair of pants or wondering where your hairline seems to be going in such a hurry. But perhaps the beauty, often obscured by a culture that values youthful perfection, far outweighs the bad.
Growing older is another year under your belt, another 365 days in which you got to know yourself better, an additional collection of memories (some good and some bad) that add color and contrast to your life.
The idea of being Peter Pan — always staying young while the people around me age — has little appeal to me. While growing older carries with it additional responsibilities, those responsibilities provide one with opportunities to express their gifts and talents in new and previously unexplored ways.
Yes, sometimes delving deeper into adulthood sucks (i.e. I still have to file my taxes) but it also means that I have a richer well of experience from which to draw when making decisions. It means that I have the freedom to make “adult” decisions (i.e. move to New York City for a new job). It means that I have a clearer picture of who my real friends are, the ones who will carry me through the rest of my life and celebrate turning one year older with a bottle of champagne in a jazz club somewhere in the Tribeca.
Knowing these things doesn’t make having a birthday any less tricky but it does challenge and perhaps even dispel the fiction conjured by our youth-obsessed and narcissistic culture that growing older is just one step closer to obscurity and irrelevance.
There’s rain forecasted for tomorrow. I’m already getting my rain boots ready.
KEVIN WRIGHT is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church currently serving as the Minister of Education at The Riverside Church in the City of New York. Kevin is a graduate of Duke Divinity School where he received his M.Div. degree with a focus on American Religious History and Christian Ethics.