Another trip round the sun or whatever the phrase is. Undeniably, I am another year older. Whether I’m wiser? I would like to think so, though not as completely wise as I would like to be.
Trying to become wiser – through learning, experience or the value of those around us – ought to come as standard, a kind of built-in feature of life: don’t waste the privilege of being able to learn by then seeking to diminish that wonderful gift. And, if we’re going to learn, then it’s only right that we respect and acknowledge both the things we have learned and also the potential to learn more.
I’ve been around for more than 40 years and, in spite of having the fortune to be present and correct for all of those, I’ve never really been one for celebrating my birthday. That’s for two reasons: embarrassment and guilt.
As a child, I recall distinctly being reminded (apropos of nothing) by my mother how fortune my sister and I were compared too others; we never wanted for material items, support or the love of our parents. We struck lucky and I knew it. I got it – I didn’t need to be reminded. And yet I was (and still am).
What this led to was a kind of resentment of the privilege I understood that I enjoyed. I didn’t turn my back on it – I have embraced it and it has helped to carry me far – but it did engender a desire to do things for myself without reliance on others. To stand on my own two feet and ask for help only in the midst of the most dire circumstances. I also learned never to ask for anything and, as a result, always feel deep embarrassment at receipt of gifts, however heartfelt the intention that accompanies them. If I want something I buy it myself and I owe no-one anything.
But there is another guilt as well, one of which I rarely speak. And that’s a person and the life they missed out on.
On my 18th birthday I attended the funeral of my best friend. He had been seriously ill for nearly 18 months and never got to see in the momentous moment of formally becoming an adult. For more than 25 years I have carried both the memory of him – he’s the guy who gave me a love of Spurs (my goodness he’d love how they play these days) – and also of that birthday. Not because I was sad for me, but I will never forget how kind his mum was to me. That a woman who had just lost her son could find the space in her heart for me on that remains one of the most extraordinary human acts I have ever experienced.
For a long time I have associated my birthday with the sadness and grief of that family’s loss. The loss of what might have been – the future they didn’t get to share in. I got on with my life and it has – so far! – been pretty good. But each year in the week before my birthday I dwell one what might have been for my friend.
So, after a quarter of a century it’s time I learned something from this. I think that is to take hold of the joy of life more – the moments that matter, the people that matter to us and sheer wonder of being around to enjoy the privilege I have been round the sun many times already.
So, in future, less introspection and more celebration.