At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “truly I say to you, unless you areconverted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” —Matthew 18:1-3

 

When I was a child, I dreamed I could fly. I had the dream often. It was effortless—three steps, arms spread, and I would rise up on the wind… somehow aware that it was a dream, and that my flight would be temporary—blissful, finite, as natural as breathing. I also seemed to understand in this sleeping part of me that it was a gift, a God-Dream, something that He knew made me happy, and one that He sent to me often.

 

Perhaps this is part of the reason I’ve always loved the story of Peter Pan. He not only knew how to fly, but he was willing to share this secret gift with others. "You just think lovely wonderful thoughts," Peter explained, "and they lift you up in the air."

 

But, we all know how the rest of the tale goes. Silently, secretly, something happens when we grow up. Something happened to me. Life came rushing past, carrying me along with it. Pain arrived with all its unexpected yet inevitable intensity. My family fell apart, and my dreams dissolved. An emptiness descended upon my soul that seemed nothing more and nothing less than a resigned folding of wings. The earth recaptured me. Time passed, and I forgot how to fly.

 

Growing Up

 

J.M. Barrie begins the story of Peter Pan like this: 

All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, "Oh, why can't you remain like this forever!" This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.

A few weeks ago I turned 50. And despite all attempts to convince myself how silly it was to feel such a thing, for a while I was depressed about it.

 

In some ways, this depression shouldn’t come as a surprise; I have lived with bipolar disorder for most if not all of my life. Over the years I have downplayed it to some and concealed it from most, and since my type of disorder is relatively mild, I have functioned quite well over the last 16 years while in recovery from my alcoholism and drug addiction. Lately, though, this old nemesis has raised its vile head again, and I have struggled some. Maybe this is why the upcoming birthday has bothered me so.

 

I’m both confused and embarrassed by these feelings. The passage of time has never before bothered me, really. I can’t remember another birthday that was in any way distressing. Turning 30, 40…these events brushed by me like a gentle breeze, barely noticed.


As a recovering addict, I have always considered myself to be living on borrowed time anyway, each sober day a generous gift. I could easily have died during those awful years of abuse, and God has restored so much in my life, far beyond what this sinner deserves. So why does this birthday—a meaningless milestone in and of itself—bring with it a vague sense of sadness?