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I think the reason why it’s so much easier to celebrate birthdays when you’re a young boy or a young girl is because you actually see yourself grow. When you’re four, you see you have possibly grown taller at five. When you’re ten, you know you can reach for the third shelf you couldn’t when you were five. At eleven, your feet can now reach the pedals of your brother’s bicycle, while saying farewell to training wheels. Adolescence provides even more reason to appreciate a birthday, when growing up can be literal: most get taller, some would gain or lose weight, voices dip to lower registers, hair grows in the most unexpected of places, and faces are adorned with acne. With hormones pumping relentlessly, growth is unmistakable.

But once you’ve outgrown puberty, and once the physical changes settle for a while, birthdays, the occasion where you’re reminded you’ve grown a year older, are less noticeable. You still look the same a year before when you turned twenty-one, -two, or -three. You still feel the same. You’re still as exhausted ever. You’re still as idealistic, or fearful, or realistic as ever. Perhaps, it’s this period between say, twenty years to thirty or even thirty-five years old, when growing up means less of becoming a stranger in front of your own mirror, and more of becoming familiar with the brevity of life.

The physical changes during that period is gradual: wrinkles and lines unmask in increments, grey hair slowly finds its way to your black mane, back pains become more common, while adult responsibilities gradually work into your system.

After thirty, thirty-five, or even at forty, I guess that is when birthdays become more meaningful again. It’s when the fifteen minute walk is now arduous. It’s when joints are no longer as flexible or responsive, and the grey hair becomes more pronounced to show a salt and pepper mane, rather than a jet black sea with silver highlights. It’s when most people are in crises or in unforeseen changes parallel to a similar search for identity in teenage life.

I’m still in the plateau sort of stage, where I can’t see if I am actually growing that determining any change of the exterior poses a difficulty. I am in a period of my life where the only measure can be found, or felt, inside. But the interior life can be quite convoluted with the pressures of adulthood gaining more weight against a less malleable system. Growing older is simply not the same as growing up. While the years stack one after the other, and the reliability of physical changes leaves one yearning for something tangible, our bodies begin their deceit just when our minds, enriched by years of experience, begin to be more docile to our ideas.

“The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.”

― Jean-Paul Sartre

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