By ALLISSA HOSTEN
The 16th birthday is considered sweet. At 17 or 18 (depending on your state) you can drive without a nervous parent breathing over your shoulder. Booze gets legal at 21. And at 25, you can go to Dave & Busters without a guardian after hours. After 25 though, the milestone born days seem to slow down.
I have heard of people weeping when they blow out 30 candles, as the proverbial "real world" closes in. Ten more years later, a few defiant noisemakers sound for 40. If you are Oprah you have a blowout 50th. Then, it really becomes about remembering grandchild birthdays. You spend hours in the store selecting the wittiest card they don't read because they are discreetly peeking for some cash. And then, if you are lucky, you just keep getting older.
Last week I buried my grand aunt Ruth, who would have been 90 in December. I realized, during the funeral, that I had never known her in her youth. When I came into the world she was already 60, and nearly retired. As I looked around the church at the next generation of aunts and uncles (my mother's siblings), I took in how much they had changed since I was little. Temples had begun to grey and midsections crept outward on my uncles. Smile lines found their way around the laughing eyes of one of my aunts, while the miniscus on the eldest aunt's knee just quit. She had had surgery that morning to repair it, and sat in the pew, leg outstretched, crutches perched, humming homegoing hymns in a blue jogging suit. There was a quiet sturdiness to all of them.
Even in my mother, the baby of the family, I noticed the regality of multiplying white hairs in her perfect halo of an Afro, although not one wrinkle yet dares take up residence on her flawless face. Looking in the mirror these days I see not myself, but her. Last month I found my first gray hair while pressing out my own Afro. It lay behind my right ear, straight even before I had applied the hot comb. I stared at it, surprised. I got a glimpse of what it would be like, to be old. In true 21st century fashion, I Tweeted about finding it, and updated it on my Facebook status. But the strand unnerved me. Life, it seemed, had just begun moving too fast.
I am not quite sure when it happened. Perhaps after college, during the 20-something, so-called quarter-life crisis, time had begun to accelerate. I can vividly remember the day the airport shuttle let me off on Xavier University's campus in New Orleans, on a hot, June day in 1998. I had a lump in my throat. I had just turned 17, and I missed home already. When I think harder, I can remember unpacking my only grown-up jewelry at the time. I had two gold bracelet and necklace sets that my Aunt Ruth had given me, as a present for graduating high school. In the shuffle that is life, they were lost. What I don't want to ever lose, however, is an appreciation for each birthday.
On the surface, 28 may not look that glamorous. But being the nerd I am, I was determined to find out a few cool things about this numeral. A brief Wikipedia search later, I found these top facts:
1. Every 28 years, the calendar is the same. So this year, we actually have the exact calendar we had in the year 1981, when I was born. I was born Wednesday, and true to mathematics, my birthday fell on Wednesday this year.
2. The number 28 is considered a "perfect number," which means, it is the sum of all its divisors. Only 1, 2, 4, 7, and 14 can divide 28. If you add these together, you get 28, hence its recognition as perfect.
3. There are 28 days in a lunar cycle (and in a menstrual cycle).
4. Twenty-eight is the number of normal human teeth.
5. There are 28 dominoes in a traditional set.
6. Twenty-eight is the atomic number of nickel.
7. And last, but not least, in Hebrew numerology, 28 is the number of "power" or "energy."
For me, 28 may not have greeting card aisle swagger, but it has a humble, just-getting-comfortable-in-my-skin fanfare. As I sit here, not yet 30, nostalgic about my aunt, I wonder what she did on her 28th birthday. I wonder if she ate something delicious, or laughed with her husband, or received lots of calls. I wonder when she found her first gray hair. Or when she began to realize that life, sooner or later, would transition into something unknown.
I like to imagine her that day, sitting in her house in a night gown, brushing her hair before bed like I did. Maybe she was looking in the mirror, noticing the physical signs of time too. And maybe she smiled because she knew life was a mystery. She might have even chuckled, ever so softly, when she made a face that looked a little like her Mom's. I like to think she turned out the light for the night and smiled in the darkness, thinking of how blessed she was. I know, as I fell asleep, my fiance breathing softly beside me, that I did.
About today's MyBrownBaby contributor: Allissa Hosten, 28, is a journalism professor at Morgan State University. She has written for O and JET magazines, and lives in Baltimore with her fiance, two dogs and a kitten.
Photo caption: The author during her high school graduation with her Aunt Ruth (in blue dress) and Ruth's daughter, Jackie (in red).