I am 18. Cigarettes, lottery and army are open to me. I get a Sony Playstation to remind myself I am just a big kid and Final Fantasy 7 to remind me of adventure. The world will open itself up to me in ways I can't begin to comprehend.
I am 19. I am dressed in Israeli army fatigues on an air force base in the desert. I am considering becoming Israeli. I am working in the gunnery, cleaning machine guns and greasing bombs.
I am 20. I am an old freshman in college. At Brandeis, I meet my green-eyed girlfriend Lauren the first week of school. Our birthdays are 368 days apart, we celebrate them together in Washington, DC.
I am 21. I can finally drink legally, and yet my first legal drink on American soil will have to wait. I am in Singapore, with my grandparents. We have been cruising through Southeast Asia, and my eyes are beginning to open to the wide world. At the fancy white Regent's Hotel, we have chocolate cake and coffee room service in reflecting sterling silver sets. I consider getting caned, but opt against such rash lashes.
I am 22. I am in Dublin. I have a pint of Guinness at the factory, and get to be the official whisky tastertester at the Jameson distillery. I have finished studying in Prague, and my travels around Central Europe. My eyes are wide open. That Fall, the Twin Towers came down. I am on my way soon to Morocco, and not without a little trepidation at the time. But that would change my perceptions and beliefs in ways I can't yet know on my birthday.
I am 23. I am in Las Vegas with a girl I had met in Spain the previous summer. We drove in a Ford Mustang convertible across the desert to the glitzy lights. I am out visiting Los Angeles, a place I would later come to live in but such thoughts are distant dreams.
I am 24. I am in Houston. I am working for the Israeli Foreign Ministry. I had never dreamed I would live in Texas, but I enjoyed it so. At the ripe age of 24, I get to speak on behalf of the State of Israel, and conduct her media and public diplomacy (a term I would yet understand). The weight of such responsibilities fills me with pride.
I am 25. I am in San Francisco. I decided to visit the City by the Bay to celebrate my quarter life, and celebrate it that weekend -- I did. I shave my head for the first time.
I am 26. I am in Houston for the last birthday. I spend it with my girlfriend, a Texan District Attorney. During the day, I sip rooibos tea at a meeting for my Rotary Fellowship in South Africa, something that would soon change my life.
I am 27. I am in Bangkok. I have reached the Thai capital, after setting out from Beijing some months earlier. I bet baht with my buddy Dan over the Muy Thai fights in front of us. I am off to India tomorrow, something that will forever widen my eyes to the world.
I am 28. I am in Buenos Aires. I find a real Syrian shwarma stand in the middle of the Argentine capital, it totally makes my day. As does the caramel-ginger flan that my amiga del verano Martina has made me.
I am 29. I am in New York. I am on break from grad school at the University of Southern California, where I am studying public diplomacy. I have just returned from an adventure with my little brother to Mexico. I am alone smoking a cigar in Central Park alone, with a scared realization that I will be 30 the next year.
I am 30. I am at the El Tunco beach in El Salvador. I am on a hammock looking at where the mangrove swamps meet the Pacific beach. I am halfway done with my trek from LA to Panama by bus. I have been making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador the days prior.
I am 31. I am again in Bangkok, this time trying to get my way to India. I receive the birthday gift I have traveled up to the city for: a visa to move on.
I am 32. I am in Washington. I have just moved into my new house in Mt. Pleasant, and already there have been three police raids on the place and one gun at my head. And I am worried that my birthday and life has gone boring.
I am 33. I am in Boston. Harry and I are sipping arbor gold from the top of the Prudential, and getting Chinese scalp massages. I have just gone Liam Neeson across Central Asia with Della Mae. I will spend the year in perpetual motion. The French consider 33 to be an auspicious birthday year, as it was the same that Jesus received his calling. At my birthday, I know I will visit Brazil this year. I don't yet know that I will quit my job and live out my Hemingway days in Paris, nor house-sit in Maui or reside in Mexico City.
I am 34.
My younger brother doesn't understand my fascination with birthdays. "It is just another day," he said. I disagree. Birthdays are vantage points, where you can look back and forward. It is a departure point to mark the time. I have marked my time well on the days I have spent. I hope you do too.
When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.