Happy Birthday To Me! Happy Birthday To Me!
I just celebrated my birthday. I won’t tell you the particular number for two main reasons. First of all, who cares: it’s impossible to feel a number. And secondly, I have a bad habit of lying about my age, which could end-up with my kids being labelled ‘illegitimate’ and my wife thinking she’s been sleeping with Peter Pan. I’ve opted to accept the wisdom that birthdays are good for you: the more you have the longer you live.
Associated with the phone calls, Skypes, Facebook messages, cards, and gifts, however, I was able to have some reflection-time. For me, that reflection involved three things.
First, there was the awareness of the speed of life. It seems that in the blink of an eye, I went from feeling bulletproof to being aware of my vulnerability. It seems like only last year that I was celebrating my birthday in Rome and enjoying everything this great city had to offer-people, art, food, and wine. Alas, that was five birthdays’ ago. I won’t bore you with a long list of other birthday-motivated realisations.
Time seems to fly whether you’re having fun or not. J.B. Priestly’s tongue-in-cheek observation that time speeds-up as we get older seems to have merit. Priestly pointed out that a year is a much smaller fraction of an older person’s life than it is that of a child’s, so the older we get…
This particular birthday led to a consideration of death. I like Woody Allen’s description: ‘Life is full of misery, loneliness, and suffering-and it’s over much too soon’. This year, however, I remembered what the Dalai Lama once told me. He said that he noticed that people seemed to be in such a hurry to get somewhere or to do something. Didn’t they know, he questioned, that they we’re all headed for the cemetery?
Very few people want to live for ever. The mythical Tithonas was granted eternal youth and begged Aurora to enable him to die. And Gulliver found that the one thing that the immortal Struldbugs desired most was to die of old age. Yet Seneca said that there wasn’t one person who wouldn’t choose to live an extra day, if they had the choice. Therein lies the conflict and my third reflection.
I agree with Eckhart Tolle when he says that all we have is NOW-this moment. Yet the conflict arises when the literature on ageing emphasises the importance of having something to look forward to-a future. And Viktor Frankl’s experiences in the Nazi death camps is cited as proof of the importance of always having something to look forward to.
Having a Bucket List and focussing on NOW seem to be conflicting advice.
It’s interesting to note that I can’t remember reflecting on these things during my bulletproof-era. As I become increasingly aware of my vulnerability, birthdays bring additional meaning. Robert O’Callaghan got it right when he wrote, ‘You can fake tan but you can’t fake time’.