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I have a major birthday coming up this week. It’s one of those milestone birthdays, the big round kind that serves like a vista point on a mountain road, a place to stop a moment, eye the horizon, gauge how far you’ve come,  and consider the miles still ahead.

Apparently not many. Harold Camping, the radio preacher who predicted the Rapture in May, has rescheduled the end of the world for October 21, the very day my personal odometer rolls up another zero. Now really, my turning 50 should not be that cosmically traumatic.

I also have a major deadline looming. A book I wrote in the 90s – Grandparents as Parents: A Survival Guide to Raising a Second Family – is coming out in a second edition, and my coauthor and I are scrambling to get it freshened up and polished for a new generation of readers.

So it’s not surprising that I’m thinking a lot about time and choices right now – the choices that brought me to this moment and the options still available – through the crucible of deadlines: my work, my decade, the world.

And that ever present question:

What will you do now?

It’s a loaded question on an average weekday, but it cuts clean to the bone whenever there’s an end in sight.

It’s something I realized in my journalism days. Short deadlines created what my friend Stu and I called the “f**k-it factor.” You didn’t have time to get it perfect (perfection being procrastination in fancy dress). You only had time to get it done.

It’s something I understood the week my mother died. The shock of her sudden passing, the reminder of our fragile mortality, brought what mattered into stark relief.

It’s something cancer survivors understand well – the radical, important choices people make when they realize life is short.

The truth is that life is always short, no matter how long you live. In Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, the narrator, Death, is very upfront about it:

 *** HERE IS A SMALL FACT ***
You are going to die.

 We don’t like to admit it, but we’re all on deadline. The word itself harkens back to the Civil War and the physical line prisoners could not cross without being shot. Our own deadline is less clearly defined, but Indonesians actually have a word for it: adjal. It is the predestined hour of one’s death. And whether or not you believe in predestiny, there is no arguing that a date like that is out there, a birthday in reverse.

Personally, I find it all oddly comforting and useful.  I am grateful to deadlines, birthdays, even warnings of endtimes coming…they are crystal clear mirrors that bring my attention back to this moment and what matters to me.

For 30, it was a little red dress. Same rationale!

So for my birthday, I got a hot new dress. It is elegant, black, sexy, short, and I need to be poured into it. Because I can still work it. Because my legs are still great. And what am I waiting for? Eighty?

I am also reconsidering how I spend my hours, and on what. At almost 50, my adjal feels closer than it did at 30. What do I want my time here to mean? And what choices can I make today to create that?

As for the end the world…I plan to spend October 21 singing myself into a new decade. And when the sun rises on October 22, I’ll turn my sights to the next deadline at hand.

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