On Saturday, amidst the fun and the fanfare that is my nephew’s first birthday, I was asking my aunt (wife of my father’s younger brother) what it was like being a grandmother. It’s always nice starting a conversation that will cause the eyes of the listener to light up, if not explode, in excitement. Life changes for the better most of the time when a young child, usually a grandkid, is added to the clan.
Later that evening, I stood with a cousin and another uncle outside the function room and observed as the crowd sang the “Happy birthday” song in unison while the one-year-old kid revelled (rare for these little humans at their age; but he’s a brave boy) in the attention. However, there were brief moments when he would be distracted, instead, by the huge cake – customised to resemble his favourite cartoon character Spongebob.
His parents blew the candles on his behalf; the flashes from the camera phones flickered in the room.
I smiled and oftentimes, thoughts would be associated and then filled with those photos, yellowed with age, of my own first birthday. Being the eldest grandchild on the paternal side of my family meant that I too experienced loads of attention. I was simply too young to appreciate the effort and the fanfare, but those photos were pleasant reminders of the first party my parents threw for me. In some ways, I am mindful of how there are people who do not have such a privilege.
But coming back to the question I posed to the aunt and still on the subject of birthdays, I believe many people who would care to ask, “What does it feel like being a 38-year-old?” on someone’s 38th birthday.
Given that I’m on the cusp of officially being middle-aged (a couple of years to my fourth decade of existence), I shall attempt to answer the question that few may ask.
Not a million dollars and definitely not a thousand dollars either (although I could do with both).
But birthdays and the New Year are times when people tend to look back – prompted or otherwise – on the year that passed. Especially on social networks, you will come across the musings of those who gripe, complain, moan, whinge or lament (rightfully sometimes) about how another 365 days flew over their heads and they have yet to achieve anything of note. Perhaps it is the human tendency to celebrate achievements (no matter how big or small) when it happens or that sometimes we don’t count our blessings enough to celebrate the small bits of pleasant stuff that life throws at us. Moreover, euphoria dissipates with time.
There are reasons, good ones, for celebrating birthdays. It marks one’s another year of existence (i.e., God has seen it fit to have bestowed me with another year of sojourn on His Earth). It allows one the pleasure of inviting family, loved ones and close friends to meals or some form of gathering where it should warm our hearts that these people care for us and are still with us. By counting our blessings (from the past year) and having the people closest to us around, it allows us to face the year ahead, always unknown, with confidence.
It doesn’t matter if I haven’t achieved anything for the past year; I’ve lived.
It doesn’t matter if I still haven’t found what I am looking for; I’ve loved.
It doesn’t matter if I accumulate more regrets with every passing year; I am wiser*.
Perhaps we’ve been so inundated with the need for achievements, recognition and fame that they have become a yardstick which later evolves to become a stick we beat ourselves with. We believed in the lie about having reasons to exist or believing in reasons to exist.
Our reason to exist (or live) was set on the day of our birth. Think about the hopes and joys that we brought to our parents, extended families, and later, people who care for us, with our birth (and existence). Think about why our first year of existence is (more likely than not) celebrated. Or even if none of them happened (or that we are not aware of), consider the joy, comfort and love we brought to those whom we care about in the course of our lives.
Think about the smile on the child’s face after you’ve given him a sweet or whom you’ve played with.
Think about the smile on the old man’s face after you’ve given up your seat for him.
Think about the hug you gave to someone who was in desperate need of one.
Think about the listening ear you willing gave to a person who needed to vent.
Life is more than just a sum total of a laundry list of achievements, the neverending quest for recognition and the hunger for fame. It’s about who we’ve touched and how we would live on in the hearts of those who love us and whom we love – long after we pass on from this world.
If we have loved, we’ve lived. If we’ve lived, we’ve loved.
* this does not mean that I’m precluded from doing foolish stuff.