According to my figuring, if my birthday were on Sunday, Feb. 29, I would be 20 instead of the 77 I’m sliding toward on July 7. There are, of course, people who do have birthdays on this date that occurs only every four years, but there’s no indication that they age any more slowly than the rest of us. Maybe they just get fewer birthday presents.
The Egyptians were the ones to learn that the Earth travels around the sun not in exactly 365 days, but in 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds. Then the Romans, wanting to synchronize the calendar with the seasons and ensure that future Juniors and Muffys get to summer camp while school is out and the weather is warm, designated Leap Years with leap days of February 29. That lumps the excess quarter-days into one day every four years.
But things were still off by 11 seconds, so in 1582 the Gregorians got even more precise. Their calendar eliminates Leap Year three times in every 400 years. Thus, a century year is NOT a Leap Year unless it’s evenly divisible by 400. (I don’t know about you, but I’m in very deep water here. I can‘t imagine how the Egyptians and Roman and Gregorians even figured all this out, but since they did, why didn‘t they invent the light bulb and the combustion engine and iPhones?)
Anyhow, if I were just 20 on Sunday, I’d still look like 76 unless, like Joan Rivers, I had had much “work” done over the years. Somebody once said of the stars of the entertainment world, “Everybody who looks good has had work done.” That’s mandatory if your face is a big part of your fortune, and today you don’t really have to go under the knife to age — or not — like Dorian Grey. Do you get those pop-up ads every time you sign onto your email that claim “Botox doctors just hate” these purveyors of a miraculous cream that can transform a sagging, wrinkled face into one that looks no more than middle-aged? I do, but I’m not tempted.
There’s more to being 20 than having a baby face.
In my case there was the belief that the best was yet to come, the expectation that all things were possible, and the lightheartedness that comes with the absence of the baggage of regret. Above all, when you’re 20, there’s the certainty that time is on your side. You can dare anything.
An old friend, 35 years my senior, once told me that the French have a saying that “you’re always 20 in some corner of your heart,” and I believe that; but for me, it’s a small corner. For other older folks, it’s a bigger one.
I know those who dream dreams all their lives, write books, make new friends, explore new parts of the world; aches and pains they have aplenty, but they learn new skills, take up new hobbies.
As to burdensome regrets, do with them what members of my church do on the first Sunday of a new year: Describe them on a small piece of paper and put them into the flames of a fire kindled for the purpose.
You can be 20 in a corner of your heart — if you dare. By next Leap Year, you could have it down pat.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.