Last night Carina and I attended Amie’s 30th birthday party, held at the Columbus Zoo. It was a lot of fun for more than a few reasons. Shortly after Amie arrived a zoo employee brought in a parade of animals, including an anteater, a giant toad, a kuka bird, and a parrot. Dinner was great, and it was fun to chat with some folks I hadn’t seen for a long time. It brought back a lot of great memories. After dinner, several of us strolled through the darkened zoo, looking at exhibits. It was a terrific experience! All of us felt like little kids again, running and cavorting through the park, eager to see which exhibits were occupied. Our first stop was the aquarium, where we all pressed our noses up to the glass, marvelled at the colors of the fish, and pointed out our favorites. It was a totally different environment to be at the zoo alone, without the hordes of screaming kids and exhausted parents. We got to get right up to each exhibit without the jostling and bumping, without the noise and distraction present at a normal day at the zoo. After the aquarium we wandered over to the reptile room. The doors were open, but all the lights inside were off! Carina and I pulled out our LED keychain lights, and Marty kept flipping open his cellphone to illuminate the exhibits, and our way. It was eerie at first, the darkened reptile room filled with a somber silence. We talked in hush tones and walked softly and slowly about the exhibits. We’d all seen the snakes and lizards before, but we all felt like this was some special exhibit we’d never seen before. We weren’t rushed or pressured to look and then get out of the way. We stared for a long time, appreciating the nuances of nature in the colored LED lights. It was truly a magical experience, and one I’m very glad to have had.

We left the reptile room and wandered off toward the fork that let us choose between Africa and Austrailia. We hemmed and hawed for a few moments, until Marty saw the kids playground and the decision was made. Carina, Marty and Sara cavorted all about the playground while Kelly and I watched and laughed. I had an uneasy fear that a security guard would appear at any moment, but that never happened. As time went on, I felt more and more confident, eventually jumping the fence into the playground and goofing around with my friends for a bit. We were silly, and childish, and absolutely filled with happiness. It was one of the more genuinely entertaining, rewarding experiences I’ve had (without the twins) in quite some time.

After goofing off at the park, we wandered into the African display area, making horrible puns about The Heart of Darkness and Out of Africa, and such. Not much was out, save for a leopard padding about his room. We gaped at him through the display glass, fascinated with the strong, supple muscles and the graceful movement. I’m not sure if it was the fact that we were alone, or if it was the silence, or if it was the cool evening air that made this such a remarkable thing; but we were all entranced, like little kids seeing a wild animal for the first time.

Our trek to the monkey exhibit was a bust, as they were all tucked inside for the night (or quite possibly for the winter), so we went back to Amie’s party. We refreshed ourselves, congratulated Amie again, and then struck out for the rhino and elephant exhibits. The first animals we saw as we headed out were two zebras in their pens. Again, that same magical wonder of seeing these animals in a new way struck us all. Next we saw a giraffe, sleeping in its pen, and then a gigantic porcupine. The elephant room was locked, and neither them nor the rhinos were out. So we just milled out, enjoying our solitude and the novelty of the experience.

At some point around this time, I was overcome with a surprising realization. I was in the zoo, after it had closed, walking about with my wife, a principal, a chemist, an off-duty police officer, a 911 dispatcher, and an employee for the financial services arm of a major German automobile manufacturer. What a bizarre combination of people, enjoying a bizarre moment. It was one of the intersections in life that really makes you appreciate where you’ve been and who you’ve become. Had I done this when I was a teenager, I’m sure I would have been a completely jerk, breaking things, jumping into vacant pens, or otherwise wasting the magic of the experience.

Exactly three months from yesterday I’ll be thirty years old. Turning 30 doesn’t bother me the way it seems to bother other people. I don’t fear getting older. I know that things will change as I continue to age. I don’t think that I’ll suffer from a midlife crisis. What is a midlife crisis, anyway? As far as I can tell it’s an attempt to recapture some of the energy and passion and enthusiasim of youth.

I’ve been realizing, as I get older, that my capacity for doing things is increasing while my energy for doing them is decreasing! I know how to do – and how to do well – a lot more stuff that I ever did when I was younger. I’ve learned an awful lot so far in life, and I’ve been able to put that to fairly good use. But my ability is curtailed by my lack of energy. When I get some free time in the evenings, after the kids go to bed, I just don’t have the desire to do much more than unwind, and enjoy some calm moments by myself or with my wife. I’m beginning to understand why my dad could – and often would – fall asleep anywhere!

I look forward to the next thirty years, and all the wonderful experiences it will bring.

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