If i’d had the type of birthday I had this weekend even ten years ago I would be feeling miserable, unloved and hard done by right now. For my birthday I went for a walk in the countryside with my partner, I read the paper with football on in the background, had an afternoon nap, received and sent messages, had a takeaway curry, watched some telly and went to bed. No meal out (still a possibility here until lockdown this coming Thursday), no alcohol, no meeting up with friends, no special outing and it probably would have been like this even without the pandemic.
Ten years ago I would have been thinking why was my life so dull, devoid of event, empty. I certainly would have consoled myself with drink; oh yes indeed. I would have used the excuse of my birthday to drink copiously until I felt even worse than I did, fell asleep and lost the next day to a hangover.
So this weekend I had what I would have previously labelled a shit birthday. The strange thing is it wasn’t a shit birthday. It wasn’t great but I had a good day; relaxed, couple of nice presents. It was Ok. I didn’t feel aggrieved or that I was missing out on anything. I was quietly content. I was intrigued- why was I content with a situation that previously would have made me miserable?
One possibility is that I have learned to expect less. Maybe life has become uniformly flat and and my suffering was bourne out of a desire to see life delivering more than it ever could. Expect less, suffer less. In one of my favourite plays, Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge,the lawyer Alfieri tries to understand the tragedy of Eddie’s overpowering passions. He concludes,”Most of the time we settle for half and I like it better.” The message for me? Rein in those passions and desires. You may lose something in the process but you’ll survive. I’m not sure that’s the whole story.
The other possibility which I think applies more is that the things that I felt were important previously simply are not anymore. Was I really having fun down the pub, drinking pints, seeing unpredictable situations emerge, hoping deep down inside for some flirtatious encounter? Enveloping myself in the illusory cloak of being alive . Looking back it all seems like desperate attempts at finding validation, connection, excitement and to deny the existential truth of our mortality. Sorry if that sounds heavy and morbid, it actually is the opposite. If those earlier attempts to find joy, meaning, escape all fell flat what else was there?
I suppose it’s the feeling I have now that one doesn’t have to look so much out as in. If I can look at myself, be by myself and find that Ok, I don’t need to find external elements to give me a sense of contentment. I can then focus on what is around me already. It’s about accepting that we are here for a brief time and that that window of consciousness that we have is incredible and to be cherished not lamented before it’s time is up. It’s the old cliche of being able to be in the here and now, appreciate the people we have in our lives, love others and accept their love and extend our own resources to help others. Doing the small stuff is what often gives me pleasure, so on balance, my birthday was not a washout, it was a day where I could enjoy and appreciate being alive. Maybe I’m just getting old, but here’s the odd thing. I wish in a way I would have been able to look at life a little more this way when I was younger. Chasing illusions, desperate for some peace and some answers. That sounds like regret but it’s not really as you can’t get to your final destination without passing through some dodgy stations. It’s another day today, let’s see what that brings, see what tiny but important impact I can make. Right now it’s time for tea and toast- magic!