I love birthdays! Especially mine. I know that sounds incredibly self centered
but I am past birthdays when it was cool not to care. The ones where I have shrugged and pretended and scoffed at celebrations. I have even sailed past milestone birthdays where I was promised the best decade of my life. With sympathetic smiles and supportive words. I played along and tried to look wise and accepting and a little bit like my grand uncle when he had stomach issues. In reality, I don’t think of life in terms of decades. I just want cake. Anything but chocolate. And surprises. I’m a sucker for surprises.
Another birthday went by just recently and I believe honesty is now completely acceptable. Expected even. My children have perfected their tolerant smiles and my mother is often telling us (my sister and I) to act our age. That’s tough. In my head, I’m a 15 yr old who can’t wait to be 25 so as to be taken seriously. My sister believes in unicorns and happy endings. Truth is, age in numbers has never made much sense to either one of us. If it wasn’t for mother, children and mirrors, we would have chalked up achy bones to growing pains.
People do often seem genuinely surprised when I tell them my age and I never know how to respond. I am told I look younger. ‘Thank you’ feels just so fake when my first instinct is to say ‘sorry’. I don’t know why. Must have something to do with the image of a painfully clueless younger me. I wouldn’t like to inflict that on the world again. The moment usually ends in an awkward half smile as I fight the urge to direct them to the many fine lines and the southward trend of everything. ‘Look at those and these- I swear I’m not lying!’ I want to say. Ten years back when life seemed to stretch ahead endlessly, I scoffed at makeup and control garments too but today I am older, more pragmatic. I plan on going down looking my best.
Then there is that displaced and shuffled up feeling on the inside. I don’t know if it qualifies as being older but it definitely disqualifies the carefree feeling of being someone’s child. Things are a bit lopsided, a little off whack. Now I worry about my mother like I remember her worrying about me. Even though she is independent and fearless and tries to convince me that I shouldn’t worry. I listen to her, hear, understand. But without my father, who I used to talk to, who heard me and understood, I can no longer afford the luxury of being a child. Like a limb that one doesn’t miss till it’s gone. It’s confusing, this reality in a one parent world. A reality, my father would have been quick to assure me, is only the natural order of things.
It all boils down to love. That, my older- though not necessarily wiser- self has picked up along the way. An observation, if you will. At the center of all this buzzing and whizzing and candle and cake, in not knowing when to step in and when to back off, is love. Everyone knows the pattern. Birth, life, death. Yet many of us have selective awareness and make it miserable on ourselves and the people around, forgetting that none of it matters. But there is love at the heart of even that. I know that it defines me completely. Love for someone, love of survival, love for a child, love for a job, love of something- that driving force without which it is impossible to get from point A to point B in that pattern of life.
As a child, when on a drive, I used to love getting up on my knees on the seat and staring out the rear window. Unwaveringly focused on that point in the far distance where the journey began. It was fascinating to me that no matter how fast or how far I traveled, the connection with that point could not be broken. All the things I noticed in the distance piling up behind was somehow very important, not to be forgotten in the excitement of looking ahead into the unknown. Life to me is just like that. An ever increasing pileup of memories behind me even as the candles on the cake add up each year.
Memories and experiences, good and bad, real measures of life. Going by that, I think I’ll be around 500 next birthday. Hold the candles, please give me cake. Anything but chocolate. Surprise me. While I tell myself-
“But some day you’ll be old enough to start reading fairy tales again”- CS Lewis