There are certain things in life that reveal themselves to you gradually, like realising that your shoes have got too small for you, or that your choice of words has become almost identical to that of people you work with. Another example of this is your character: your likes, dislikes, habits and hobbies – are carved out of your experiences after years of trying things which were novelties at first, but which then became familiar, and were lumped together to form your personality. Age is also one such thing. Despite birthdays being the conventional mark by which you measure your time on this forlorn planet, they are mere numbers, statistics that don’t show a fraction of what lies behind them. Besides the annual reminder of how old/young you ought to consider yourself, age manifests itself in a number of curious ways.
If you’re a man, hair is usually a good indicator of where you’re at in your long, desolate journey towards your chequered flag. What I find funny is how upset people get when they see their hair change in volume or colour. It has almost become a rite of passage to lament a solitary grey strand you discover whilst examining your youthful yet diminishing features against a faithful, four-cornered friend. Worse still, when you pat your head only to realise that a thick mop no longer cushions it. Rather, your scalp is nearly visible underneath a faint, rapidly-thinning clump. Either way, your heart sinks with dread as you convince yourself that you’re not that old yet.
Another common signpost you should look out for is people you once considered to be children. It’s both heartening and horrifying when you bump into lower classes from your school, only to be dwarfed by their height and shocked by their age. The ten year-olds are now double that age, and, more unnervingly, you’re a good five years ahead of them. Life, it seems, doesn’t stop. As you grow older, so does everybody else. It may sound like a pretty lame realisation, but for me it is a constant surprise when I see former children who have become ‘grown-ups’.
A less universally acknowledged sign of the ageing process is when football players you idolised during your teens become mere studio spectators and pundits, or actually evolve into coaches and managers. For me, watching Ryan Giggs take temporary charge of Manchester United, counselled by other members of the Reds’ famous class of ’92 – was exciting from a purely footballing viewpoint, but a sobering reminder that more than twenty years had passed since he made his debut for the club. The Lion King was released two decades ago, too. If footballing history doesn't stir you, perhaps Simba's birth will.
Though I didn’t follow the World Cup as avidly as I may have done in the past, I was slightly relieved every time a commentator said the name of a player who I knew from yesteryear. These included Messi, Van Persie and the Portuguese Ronaldo. His now-rotund Brazilian namesake, meanwhile, watched from the commentators’ box as his countrymen were obliterated by a German team I barely recognised.
As for today, well, I’m two weeks short of turning twenty six years old. It’s about time I stopped wallowing about my years of self-perpetuating wilderness. Instead, each day is to be taken as a gift, each breath a blessing, and a chance to do well.