Thirty-Three: In which a song helps me deal with time

My birthday was this month and, honestly, I wasn’t very happy about it. It’s to no avail, of course, but I find myself continually resisting my birthdays, more and more each year.

I have never liked getting older, not even when I was young. I didn’t eagerly await turning 16 so I could drive, or 18 so I could be of age, or 21 so I could drink legally in the U.S. (although I was a little excited to turn 25 so I could rent a car).

If it were up to me, I would have stayed 10 forever, when the first signs of puberty started me thinking about age and time. Since then, the reality of our inability to stop time from rushing, rushing by has been hard for me to deal with. This may be arrogant or foolish, but it’s not OK with me that there is a force beyond my control, a force I cannot fight with nor overcome, that determines some of the most basic things about me – how I feel, what I look like, how my brain works.

So birthdays have always been hard for me, and each year they get harder. Each year there is more time to look back on with the sober understanding that I am completely responsible for it. Each year the answers to the questions of Was this year what I wanted it to be? What am I doing with my life? Am I any closer to who I want to be? become graver.

Of course, this thinking isn’t unique. I imagine most adults ask these types of questions during birthdays or at the New Year. They are not easy questions to ask and are even harder to answer.

That is why, with time against me, I resentfully face this 33rd year that did not ask me for permission to arrive.


As I write this just now, I realize 33 is one of my favorite numbers. And I am cheered by this! I had more to say about how getting older makes me sad, how there are things I regret from the last year. But I’m 33! Maybe this year won’t be so bad if I get to be one of my favorite numbers during it.

The reason this is one of my favorite numbers is simple: It’s a song, Thirty-Three, by The Smashing Pumpkins. I was 13 when I first discovered the band. Having heard just one verse of Billy Corgan’s voice, I became obsessed with their music, obsessed like only a 13-year-old girl can be – lyrics meticulously copied into notebooks, pictures of the band printed off from the Internet, newspaper and magazine clippings saved so I could read and reread them.

This was during the Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness era, the height of the Pumpkins’ popularity, and the single Thirty-Three was all over the radio and MTV. Personally, I was drawn to the longing in its sound, and I was intrigued by its lyrics that were both lovely and incomprehensible to me. The seemingly unconnected images that filled its video were a mystery I wanted to live in. I listened to the song over and over.

So in this way, Thirty-Three made 33 one of my favorite numbers 20 years ago, and because it was significant to me then, I’ve let it continue being significant to me now. This number and song connect me to who I’ve been in the past. They take me back to the girl I was when I was 13, even more imaginative, obsessive, and sound-craving than I am now. They remind me of being young and innocently taken by something I considered beautiful.

All of this helps me realize: If the thought of time unstoppably rushing on can be brightened by the simple reminder of a song I first liked 20 years ago, then maybe I should be glad I’m turning another year older. It means I’m still alive enough to appreciate the little things, to find enjoyment now in something I enjoyed when I was young. It means that, hopefully, 20 years from now I will look back and be grateful for the beauty I am discovering today that will bring me a smile-inducing memory then. Time can speed and charge its way over me, but I can find another year of simple, lovely pieces of life in its wake.

And, so, while it may be an incredibly sentimental, narrowly personal thing, I am comforted and helped by the fact that, this year, I am 33.




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