When I was just a kid, we had a burnt-orange colored corduroy sofa in the living room. The sofa was part of our good furniture in a room that was only used on those rare “special” occasions, yet somehow the room is a fixture in most of my distinct childhood memories, of which there are few. It was the room where I remember meeting my mother’s estranged father when he came for a visit (I sat at his feet and drew cars for him, child-like renditions of a Porsche 911, I’m sure), the room where I first held my newborn sister (who may or may not have been named after my favorite character on the early 70s show, The Mod Squad) after my parents brought her home from the hospital, and the room where I sat and cried when my parents told me that my beloved great-grandmother had gone to be with Jesus.
When I was six or seven, maybe eight, I can remember on the eve of a particular birthday, measuring myself from end-to-end on the corduroy. I don’t know why, exactly, I thought there might be the possibility of a spontaneous growth spurt in the course of a few hours of sleep, but it seemed like a scientific experiment worth pursuing. The irony is that while I vividly remember the pre-birthday measuring episode — seventh cord on the third cushion, I’m thinking, or something of that nature — I have no real recollection of the follow-up measurement check on the next day. I’m not even sure if there was one. Maybe there was, perhaps it was a disappointment. I can’t say for sure. Apparently, I’d make a shitty scientist.
I’m still a bit obsessed, all these years later, with taking a sort of personal growth inventory on the occasion of a birthday. By now, I’ve given up hopes of getting any taller (I always wanted to be 6’2″, but I’ve accepted the fact that I won’t be realizing that dream) and I certainly don’t need to grow any wider, so the focus now is on some sort of personal inner growth. What have I learned, what have I conquered, or what have I changed? In what way am I different, better, or stronger than I was when standing on the precipice of my last birthday, or the one before that?
I turned 42 today, which seems like an odd thing when I say it out loud, mostly because the mental picture I have of what “42” should look like doesn’t seem to match the image I see in my mind’s mirror. I feel like I should have accomplished more by now, maybe written a book, cured a disease, or changed the world in some small measure. But I don’t even recycle and my use of low energy light bulbs doesn’t seem to rise to the occasion that my quickly approaching mid-40s somehow demand.
Perhaps the mistake here is this notion that we can and should measure our growth only by those easily recognizable outer “accomplishments.” Maybe if we were to make it less about a book or a cure and more about those times when we quietly conquer an inner demon, forgive a transgression, or mend a portion of a heart that was broken. For these things, I may win no award or sign no autograph, but I also know that they are things that have helped to change me more fundamentally than if I had finally learned to play the guitar.
I’m not sure what the coming year will bring, but I hope that when I am knocking on the door of 43, I will be able to look back with the clear knowledge that I’ve again grown in a way that an orange corduroy couch could have never detected.