We can’t be forever 15


Nothing will knock you out of a navel-gazing haze of self-indulgence over rapidly advancing age — “Wait? What’s that? Another wrinkle?” — quite like staring death in the face.

In this case, “the face” was a snapshot, more than 20 years old, of an old high school classmate who never lived to see her 16th birthday — let alone turn 41.


We had a horrific spate of teen deaths in my high school. So much so that the local paper covering the tragedies referred to them as a “curse.” Even one child dying is a curse, of course, but the six we lost during the four years I attended high school was enough to test even the faithful.

Some were car accidents, some suicide, and some were the result of natural, if tragically untimely, deaths. All these years later I still think about those kids.

The ones that didn’t get to agonize over finals, plan for prom dates or stifle in the 90-degree heat wearing an itchy mortarboard to graduate with us one sunny, Sunday afternoon.

They were represented on that momentous occasion with only a rose on a chair. I recall with clarity that at least one of their mothers came to watch the rest of us and wept.

When I become too morose over my advancing age, I think about all those lost classmates who would give anything to turn 30, 40 or more.

As a mother

As a mother myself I now identify with their parents as never before. Do they mark the time on a calendar? “He might have married” or “She would have had kids.”

Each milestone I enjoy is one that those long-lost classmates never get to see. Suddenly those extra pounds or the wrinkle between the brows pales in comparison to all the real problems in the world.

Nonetheless, because I am a vain and shallow person I often fail to take my own advice. Thus the morning of my 41st birthday dawned to find me just a tad obsessive about all the little things that add up to a very big reminder that I am not 21 anymore.

Some of those things are joyous: a husband, two children, a wonderful career and a house all mine. Others are less enticing: the bags, the sags, the weird little wrinkles. What is that all about? I used to have much better hair too.


Being an inveterate waster of time, I consoled myself by logging on to the Internet to read birthday e-mails and check out my favorite hobby site. The thing about the Internet is that much like real life people rarely stay on topic.

Thus, buried amongst the discussions of photography and scrapbooks sat one simple little sentence: “Today is my son’s birthday, he would have been 25 years old.” Talk about being knocked back on your self-absorbed whiny little heels.

Today as in my birthday? I simply had to click.


The writer, “Sue,” was a mother who had lost her 15-year-old son in a boating accident a decade earlier. Like me, “Sue” wondered how the years passed so quickly? She looked at photos of her son as a toddler and mused about his bright eyes and gummy smile.

She recalled the days when her son loved sitting on her lap to read and played loudly with Tonka trucks — making “brrrr-vroom” motor sounds.

She had only begun to know the teenage version of her child — he was bigger, stronger and more defined. She had already begun to sigh over how fast time was flying unaware of how cruelly and completely without warning it could stop.

Then it did and every birthday after — 10 years worth — was spent wishing that her child could have just one more birthday; another chance to grow up, another chance to grow old.

Somewhere on that very same birthday I was probably cataloging wrinkles and wondering if my butt looked big.

So I took out that old snapshot of my classmate — forever 15. She didn’t grow up. She didn’t grow old. She didn’t get true love, babies, or a (slightly) bigger butt. I feel confident in saying that I bet she would have loved to have a shot at all of that.


“I wish I could just stay 15 — or 25 — forever,” we say, but we can’t possibly mean it. Forever is a very long time.

Birthdays are just a number and the higher you go the luckier you really are. Each year is another gift of time. Time is promised to no one and taken all too quickly from some.

Make your birthdays — and everyday — count. Don’t waste your days counting wrinkles.

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