Today I'm forty.
I'm starring at this number in disbelief, even though I've seen it coming for, say, 35 years. It's not because I feel old (I don't). It's not because I can't believe how fast it's gone (I can).
It's because I can't believe how lucky I've been. I've lived a life of privilege from the day I was born.
I was born in what is today the world's wealthiest country by almost any measure. I was born to loving parents who supported me in every decision I've made, who didn't pressure me into any particular direction. I was lucky to meet many wonderful friends across the decades and across the continents, some of whom I've only known for a few months or a few years. As far as I can tell, none of them has ever betrayed me. I have a wonderful wife who supported me in all my decisions, who stuck with me in my low times, and who is simply the best partner and mother to our children I can imagine. I have two wonderful children who make me smile every single day. With the exception of the regular childhood sniffles, they have never been seriously ill.
I have never been in a hospital as a patient in the past 40 years. I would love to keep this record going for the next 40 years.
I have a wonderful job, a tenured position in one of the world's best and most innovative universities. I'd like to think I had something to do with this - but it's hard not to see how everything has also simply lined up perfectly: a free educational system, wonderful mentors, perfect timing.
In other words, I was lucky beyond imagination.
I'm curious what's in store for me. Statistically speaking, I'm not even at half time. But ever since I've had children, I've been thinking about death more often. I'm not sure why, but there is something about seeing your children grow up that somehow reminds you that for new life to begin, old life must eventually end. I am now keenly aware that my heart could stop beating tomorrow, or that a car may run me over on my ride to work next week. So what? If anyone reads this after I've passed away, I hope they can see that I've had a wonderful life, and that I've been incredibly grateful for it.
Perhaps I'll luck out even more, and I will see my children grow up to become independent and responsible adults. Perhaps I will see my wife make her dream come true of becoming a winemaker. Perhaps I can one day hold a grandchild in my arms. I will surely shed a tear then. Perhaps I can work on interesting projects for another two to three decades, and try to make the world a slightly better place than it was before. Perhaps I can see thousands of sunrises while marveling at the beauty of the universe, and my astronomical luck to be among the few bags of atoms that understand where they came from and why they are here. Perhaps I can drink thousands of wonderful bottles of wine, with friends new and old, laughing and crying about whatever it is life has thrown our way.
Perhaps not. Perhaps my luck runs out in a few days, a few months, a few years. So be it. Today, I am simply pausing, after having circled around the sun 40 times, somewhere in a distant corner of the universe, to be grateful for what I've had.