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Never worry about your birthday

I see, according to a television morning show, that turning 50 isn’t as bad as it sounds. I guess that has a lot to do with from what prospective one is looking. To a teenager, 50 is ancient; to a 49-year-old, it’s frightening; to a senior citizen, it’s young.

The show contends that thanks to today’s more healthy lifestyle, 50 is much younger than it was even a few years ago.To make their point, they compare a picture of George Clooney alongside the late actor Jim Backus. They neglect to state that Clooney has probably spent more on cosmetic surgery than Backus did on his Bel-Air mansion.

I must admit, 50 sounds like the springtime of life to me. Of course, I am about to celebrate my 75th birthday. There was a time, however, when age was something I never really thought about.

That all changed when I was in seventh grade. It was the first time age really meant something to me and it was due to a classmate’s birthday. Our class had one member (not a small number when you consider there were only eleven in the class), who never liked school and could hardly wait to quit. He was nearly four years older than the rest of the class and celebrated his 16th birthday during that school year. The day he turned 16 he could legally quit school … and he did.

I guess that was the first time I realized how age can make a big difference in life. Being members of such a small class gave us the feeling of family; losing one so abruptly was a big deal. I didn’t appreciate the significance of that junior high class until a few years later.

During my sophomore year in high school, another boy in our class dropped out of school; a few months later he was killed in a car accident. It was then that I discovered how fragile life really is. When someone dies, he or she is gone forever.

That wasn’t easy for me to digest. Up to that point, I guess I had never thought about how final death is and that it can claim the young as well as the old.

About a year later, another member of my seventh-grade class was killed in a car accident. He was the one who had dropped out of school when he turned 16. He, too, was a good friend and his death brought back the realities of life and death. For a junior in high school, it was difficult to go to school each day without having the thoughts of those two former classmates surface.

I was in basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., when I was told of a third member of my class dying from the results of a car accident. I had recently celebrated my 21st birthday and so would have he.

I remember going back to the barracks and thinking of him that entire evening. His memory dominated my thoughts and the good times we had shared came back in many flashbacks. Three classmates out of eleven seemed hard to comprehend. It still is to this day.

I guess the reality of the uncertainty in life gave me a different perspective on age even at a young age. Sure, it’s something we all learn in life, but my seventh-grade class was an especially strong teaching tool.

It’s with that in mind that I find worrying about any birthday: 40th, 50th, 60th … whatever, as a waste of time. The thing to be concerned about is tomorrow.

(Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.)

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