Inexplicably, I turned 36 last month. Well, OK - it can be explained mathematically. Being born on the 20th of August in 1976 would mean that, come that same date in 2012...yep, that's 36 years. Even an English major (ahem) can figure that out.
It's not that I'm upset over being in my mid-thirties. After all, age is just a number, you're only as old as you feel (not a day over 70), plus some other cliche I can't think of right now.
No, it's more of a metaphysical confusion that I'm grappling with here. What I'm wondering is, where the heck did those 36 years go?
I remember when I was a child, during various family get-togethers for holidays, weddings and other special occasions, a curious incident that would inevitably occur. One or another extended family member who hadn't seen me for a few years would catch sight of me and come walking over, eyes seemingly wide with amazement. "Oh my goodness," they would exclaim, "Is that little Richie? Look at you! Look at how you've grown!" I would smile and accept the hug, but also wonder to myself what kind of mental deficiency I had just witnessed.
Of course I've grown, I thought, isn't that what's supposed to happen? Get a grip.
Several years ago, though, I got to experience the timequake firsthand. One of my circle of friends, Paul, was getting married and I, quite naturally, was checking out the bridesmaids. Amongst their ranks, I recognized my friend's younger sister, plus a few of the bride's friends from group evenings out on the town. But there was another, younger girl in a pastel gown who could not be accounted for in my mental rolodex.
Finally, I asked Paul who she was.
"Oh, that's Rachel," he said.
The mental rolodex went to work. Hmm...Rachel, Rachel. I recalled that Paul had a little step-sister named Rachel from when his mother remarried, but that it couldn't possibly be her. The last time I had seen her, she was about three feet tall, toddling around the back of the church we used to attend, with her father trailing after her.
That Rachel? It couldn't possibly be. But of course it was, and I heard myself babbling with the same mental deficiency that I remembered from my youth. For her part, Rachel accepted my compliment about how pretty and grown-up she looked, smiling with pity at her big brother's apparently senile friend.
Paul's wedding had marked the first of my close friends to be married. Three weeks ago, however, we all gathered together for another first amongst our inner circle. Allen Fortuna, known to us always as A.J., was found dead in his Pittsburgh apartment of still-unknown causes in early August. He was a successful optometrist, a blunt and razor-witted rhetorical combatant, and an ardent fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was also 34 years old, not into drugs, most certainly not depressed, and in apparently fine health the last time any of us saw him. Yet there we were on that Saturday afternoon, helping Mr. and Mrs. Fortuna through one of the most unnatural acts a parent can experience - the funeral of their child.
Such a premature glimpse at mortality has hit the group with geological force, and aftershocks are to be expected for some time. As a veteran of numerous funerals, including that of a 33-year-old cousin in 2006, I was familiar with the gruesome sadness of such occasions. Still, it has managed to focus the sense of impending mortality more sharply than gray hairs in the beard managed to.
Thankfully, my friend Paul and his lovely wife Andrea are bringing the circle of life back around again. They were the first (and so far, the only) of us to produce a child, who will soon celebrate his third birthday. The little guy will be joined this fall by a baby brother or sister, as well.
"Time isn't kind or unkind," Sam Beam sings in Iron & Wine's "Tree by the River." It simply is, and it seems to be passing more quickly with each successive trip around the sun. Coincidentally, I had a "what if" conversation just days ago with an acquaintance about whether those annual orbits are occurring more quickly, making time literally pass faster and faster. I began to speculate upon whether people stripped of contemporary technology, such as the Amish or primitive tribesmen, are feeling the same time crunch that affects so many of us.
Our speculative conversation could likely have continued on that way for quite a while. But we both ran out of time.
(Richard Sberna is a reporter for The Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org)