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Birthdays and Horizons

69 today. That’s a good number, as it’s the same upside-down as rightside-up. The last one of those I passed through was 11, so it’s been awhile. (Ok, sure 1 and maybe 8, depending on the font.) Quick aside: 1961 also looked the same both ways, at least on pennies.

69 is the last year before one of what I call horizons rises to meet me: As a younger man, I thought of 70 as the horizon between ordinary people and…old people. So next year I’ll be a genuine, card-carrying Old Guy. Does this bother me?

Not on your life. Or mine.

Life is all about horizons. When I was in kindergarten, first grade was a horizon. When I was in grade school, high school and college were horizons. Marriage was a horizon, understanding it poorly as I did when I was six or seven. I remember wondering if you had to have a job before you could get married. I imagined living with a girl, and it was a…peculiar imagining, at 9 or 10. In truth, I could more easily imagine going to the Moon. I considered that a horizon as well; in fact, when I was a senior in high school, my lunch table vowed to meet on the Moon on New Year’s Eve 1999. It seemed so far away, in time as in space. We’d come so far so fast–how could it not happen?

Not every horizon comes when it’s called.

College, mon dieu. That horizon that hit me in the face and damned near broke my nose. I got past it. I graduated, and got a job. That was a horizon. Leaving home was a horizon, one I avoided for far too long. I proposed to my best friend–one horizon–followed all too quickly by our wedding–another horizon.

Ordinary life can be deceptive. If you squint a little, you can avoid seeing any horizons. You get up, go to work, come home, have dinner, write/tinker/work 20 meters, then go to bed, confident that the same thing will happen tomorrow. Nonetheless, the horizons are there. My father’s death was a horizon, one I could see coming a long way off, and it shook me to the core. Scarcely a year later, one of my friends died. He was a fireman, and a wall fell on him while he was making sure everyone had gotten out alive. Seeing friends die is a horizon that few of us see coming, especially when we’re still in our twenties. It was scant comfort to remind myself that Bill Nixon was a hero. He was only the first. There have been many since then.

Starting my own company was a old dream of mine, and in 1989 it jumped up and said “Hi!” Horizons can be like that. Losing that company 12 years later was another horizon, one that almost ate me alive. Having my first book published was an even older horizon. I remember a dream in which I was holding my first book, without knowing what book it was. Sometimes horizons don’t tell you much about themselves until they’re already in your rear-view mirror.

Retirement was a very old horizon; I remember thinking as a teen that 2017–when I would turn 65–was an eternity away. Flying cars! Mars base! Heh. Today, well, 2017 seems almost quaint.

Horizons are firsts and onlies. You do them once and they change you, and then, sooner or later another one comes around the corner at a gallop.

Be ready.


  1. Jim Dodd says:

    Happy birthday, Jeff. Yes, the phrase, “Age is just a number,” is a cliché but it is true. I’m 70 and I’m happier now than I’ve ever been. While I’ll never cycle in the Tour de France or become a concert pianist now, I’m OK with that. I just retired this year and I’m busier than ever. I was having trouble working as quickly as the younger folks at work but I think my experience made me a better engineer/programmer. You’ve got so many accomplishments and insights to look forward to. And I bet your later and upcoming books will be even better than your older works.

  2. Tom says:

    A VERY wise man once said to me, “It is better to just keep having birthdays than not to.” That man was my Father. He was 27 when I was born and he always seemed so much older and wiser than I ever hoped to be. Our roles reversed just before the year 2000, when it became more and more evident that he was having increasing dementia and was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. A disease that had claimed my Mother just over a decade before. He never gave up though, his last 5 weeks were spent in hospice and the Doctor in charge called me to his office during one visit and told me that he had NEVER seen anyone subsist for so long using so little energy. It didn’t really surprise me since he was always on his way to that next birthday.

  3. Rich Rostrom says:

    “69” is not the same upside down; it’s the same rotated 180 degrees, which is not the same.

    “0”, “1”, “3”, “8”, and any combination of them are the same upside down.

    “0”, “8”, and “88” are also the same rotated 180 degrees,

    Although I suppose the definition of “upside down” may vary.

    1. Well, sure–and as usual, definitions comes into play. When I was ten I had a 1961 plain (i.e., no mint mark) penny. Rotated 180 degrees, the “1961” looked exactly like it did before the rotate. And I think most people, seeing Lincoln’s head pointing at the floor, would say the penny was “upside down.” Now, place the penny on a table, and “upside down” might mean a horizontal flip…and the penny would now show the memorial instead of the president. Do a horizontal flip on “69”, and you get a mirror image. I suspect that’s what you meant.

      Obviously, much depends on the font.

  4. Bob says:

    Nice essay, Jeff. I’m going to copy it as a note into my Standard Notes app so I can think about it later.

  5. Happy Birthday Jeff. May your next horizon be the best one yet!

  6. Dave Morgereth says:

    Happy Birthday Jeff and thanks for writing yet another thought provoking essay. I just passed that birthday that Paul McCartney sings about on the Sgt. Pepper album. (And now you have that song stuck in your head 🙂 ). I remember listening to that song as a 10 year old in 1967 and thinking, “that’s a long way off”, but time (and horizons) have flown by.

    God Bless you and best wishes for many more happy birthdays

    “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”. Hebrews 12:2

  7. Vince says:

    I like the idea of ‘Horizons’. The concept has more gravitas than ‘bucket list’. I know they’re not the same, and one doesn’t replace the other, but thinking of horizons makes thinking of bucket list contents almost sinfully trivial.

    I now have to sit down and reflect on what horizons are coming for me, might come suddenly, and which ones I want to ‘bring to me’.

    Belated happy birthday Jeff.

    1. Many thanks!

      Regarding horizons and buckets: There are “mays” and “musts.” I have a bucket list of sorts. I’d like to go to Ireland and visit the little crossroads farm town of Ballyglass, where my great-grandmother was born, and hoist a glass to the Emerald Isle. I may do it. I may not. If I don’t, I won’t be heartbroken, or call it some sort of personal failure. That item is at the top of a pretty short list, all things that might happen or might not.

      Five years from now, another horizon arrives: Our 50th wedding anniversary. That will happen, and we intend to have a whompin’ good party at a banquet hall, with dinner and dancing, like we did for our 25th. At some point I’ll come due for another colonoscopy. Like it or not, that’s a horizon. I could choose not to, but there is a sort of “due diligence” to be satisfied as one of the conditions of remaining alive and functional, especially for people my age. Getting flu shots is another in that category, as was getting my COVID shots, and annual physicals. Losing pets is a horizon, one of which came up when QBit left us in 2019. Seeing our goddaughters become adults is yet another.

      I think you get the idea. Horizons can be chosen; I chose to be married, and I chose the woman I married. Those decisions were not trivial. They had roots in my deepest sense of self–and in some strange way those choices, even though they were exercises of my free will, were preordained.

      Life is shot through with mysteries like that. Which, I might add, is one reason I enjoy living as much as I do.

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