I used to see every January first as the day the newest year’s model of ME would appear in the showroom. I think we all tend to do that to a greater or lesser extent -- it’s how we motivate ourselves to make New Year’s Resolutions. One year I debuted non-smoking Norbert, then it was exercising-every-day Norbert, then losing-50-pounds Norbert.
Not every one of those product launches was a complete failure – I still don’t smoke, I exercise… occasionally, and I’m not the fattest I’ve ever been. But gradually, subtly, something’s changed. Where I used to see every new year as an opportunity to reinvent myself, I no longer crave reinvention. Maybe it’s an age thing – some deep recognition that I’ve already burst through every cocoon this life is likely to allow me. That any chance I was going to get to become an Olympic athlete or an Oscar-winning director would probably have come by now. Or the realization that when I was 25 I had no idea how rich or famous I was eventually going to be, and now… I probably know.
There are moments when all this bothers me, more than I like to admit. I don’t consider myself particularly good at getting older. For one thing, you can’t age without experiencing moments of profound loss, and that’s hard to face. And although I swore to myself many years ago that one thing I would never do was regret, that promise can be difficult to keep.
But I try, because it was a very wise promise. I have no time for regret, and that’s why I’ve given up – happily – on reinvention. You can’t put on a new skin without sloughing off the old one, and I’ve put too much work into being who I am today to let any of that work go to waste. So instead of trying to reinvent myself every year, I look for small things I can do that will make me like myself more. I avoid doing things the way I’ve always done them before. I make sure the people I love never have cause to doubt how much I care about them. And creatively, I’ll go out on a limb to express myself in ways I’d never have tried a few years ago for fear I’d let myself down.
I left 25 behind more than 30 years ago. It shows on my face, certainly in my shape and the speed I do things. But I find that the thing that changes most with age is time – the space between minutes, hours, and days that used to exist, is just gone. Once there was an entire year between one Christmas and the next; now I swear it can’t be more than three months.
But now that time goes faster, I appreciate it more. It matters how I spend it, and I never set out to deliberately waste or kill it. I’m miserly with my hours when it comes to doing things that are tedious or petty. But I do give them freely to my family, to laughing, to making things or to reading a good book. I hope I still have quite a few years left, but I know they’re going to fly by. I intend to fly with them.
Norbert Brown is a free-lance writer and actor living in Bourne.
This essay was edited by Viki Merrick of Atlantic Public Media.