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Birthday Symbolism

May 20, 2014

Much like that Counting Crows guy, I felt so symbolic yesterday. I get that way on birthdays, making meaning out of the meaningless. Last year, at age 42, my self-rallying cry was a Douglas Adams riff, with results as predictable as any New Year’s Resolution. I stretched a bit as a writer, but my sinking ship sank deeper. What was most remarkable about 42 was how it flew by without fanfare. It feels like mere weeks since I wrote that “42” post, and not much has changed since then.

I kicked off age 43 with an act of defiance. Sure, I got up at the usual time, got my kid ready for school, and commuted downtown. But then I hurled my defiance at my routine by having a leisurely breakfast at a place that was a tad too out-of-the-way to visit during a work day. I spat in the face of the ticking clock (not literally) by strolling along the river walk and watching the boats. And I thumbed my nose at obligation by ducking into the office, getting something to drink, and browsing the web until it was time for my Chicago Architectural Society river cruise. And from the top deck of that tour boat, I turned up my head, the sun warming my face, and gazed up the side of Illinois Center One into the window of the conference room where many an afternoon I longingly stared at the boats below. And I laughed the laugh of a man who had escaped.

But that damn symbolism. As we cruised up the Chicago River, I saluted the one-time IBM Building. My dad built that. He was the lead structural engineer. It doesn’t stand as tall as it did before its new neighbor, the Trump Tower, sprouted from the rubble of the old Sun-Times offices. But it’s still standing proud, and I started doing the math of what age my dad had been when he did the engineering to make it stand up at all. He was younger than I am now. I had scattered his ashes around this and his other buildings, because I think it’s fitting that a man make his own monuments. But then I started brooding, thinking about how, at work, I’ve had to spend the last few months dismantling the things I built over the last three years. Was the IBM Building throwing a shadow over me as I drifted beneath? Damn symbolism.

But no. I’m 43, and wiser than that. Even though such thoughts fit this narrative, I’ve never had Daddy Issues, nor any cause for them. I enjoyed an indulgent day in the city, followed by an indulgent evening with my family. The sun today is reflecting off the IBM Building and sparkling on the water, much as sunlight, glass, and water often interact to do. And life goes on, much as it always does. Another trip around the sun.

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