Well, well, well – here comes another birthday already! They do seem to come round faster every year, as though time were spiralling inward. Did those last twelve months really consist of 366 days and 52 weeks? Should I be doing penance for having wasted – even killed – time?
My last birthday was a special one. I was very reluctant to accept that I had been here on this earth for so many decades: a bitter pill to swallow. On the other hand, I was fit and healthy, and we celebrated on a perfect summer’s day with a wonderful barbecue for the family by my friend’s swimming pool. That was followed by a ride in a hot-air balloon. That was the high spot, figuratively and literally. My generous family have given me a balloon ride as a round birthday present (again, figuratively and literally!) 3 times now, and that was the best so far.
This year things are very different. It’s a prime number but it’s much more low key – and surprisingly enough, not at all traumatic, even though I’m a year older. I’m told birthdays are an opportunity to take stock and set goals for the next twelve months. That’s all well and good, but it isn’t I who am in control of events! Things happen, and life has taught me to expect the unexpected. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isaiah 55:7-9. All I can do is examine my attitudes and decide what needs improving. There’s still plenty of scope there!
This was what I wrote a year ago:
Three score years and ten …
You plod along and the years go by, successively getting shorter, and suddenly here’s another birthday with a zero on the end. A round birthday. Another one – already?
I’m in denial about this one, and refuse to have a big celebration. Just the immediate family – but we are five living generations and even though I’m an only child and my daughter is an only child, she went out and multiplied where I didn’t. A son-in-law, three granddaughters, two grandsons-in-law, a great-grandson and a second great-grandbaby on the way – together with my mother, daughter and me that makes ten. It was a lovely party, a barbecue by a friend’s swimming pool on a hot sunny day at the end of June, and if anyone was offended at not being invited, you now know the reason.
I refuse to say the number but a little demon keeps whispering it in my ear. Over and over. Admittedly, my hair has gone grey and I’m a couple of stone heavier than I ought to be, but I don’t feel that old. Oh what a cliché, what a platitude that is! All my life I have been hearing people saying they don’t feel their age, and I have looked pityingly at them and thought, “Well, don’t kid yourself! You look old and you are old, you are seventy, after all!” And now – here I am, falling neatly into that very category. Or not so neatly – very reluctantly, in fact, fighting all the way, kicking and screaming that I AM NOT OLD!
When my mother-in-law hit this number, we bought her – at her request – a small blood-pressure measuring device. I remember sitting around the table with the family after lunch, passing the thing along so we could compete for highest and lowest scores (mine was always low) and thinking how pathetic to have sunk to such a low level of entertainment. Now, I’m beginning to empathise.
My body does occasionally remind me that it’s been around a while, though I tell myself that all my cells have regenerated over the years, so there really isn’t any part of me left that I was born with. Yes, my skin is less elastic and in spite of the subcutaneous fat there are lines and a few wrinkles. I’m not as supple as I was, my toes are a bit further away than they used to be, and I have to take a couple of pills to keep the pains away that suddenly appeared a few months ago with no previous warning. But compared with most people my age, I still consider myself relatively young – middle-aged at the most. Not O-L-D.
It was the letter that sneaked in with my birthday cards that pushed me into the doldrums. It demanded a medical certificate to say that I am still fit to drive my car. I have had problems with my eyes for a few years, and am aware that my eyesight is no longer 20-20, but I know my limitations and have adapted my driving habits accordingly. Still, here are these people coldly demanding proof, and threatening to take away my mobility, my liberty, my independence. A laser capsulotomy and a recommendation from my doctor saved me. A miracle, and I am extremely grateful.
My three-year-old great-grandson knows I am not old: “Take your shoes off, Granny, and come and jump on the sofa too!” is an invitation that I didn’t follow, but he’s assessed my mental age correctly. I’d love to bounce on the sofa, and yes, I will have a go on the trampoline.
“I’ll pick you up at the station – are you OK to ride pillion on my Vespa?” Now that was an invitation I did accept, just a month after the dreaded birthday, and though I found it a challenge to swing my leg over the bike, once I was on and riding through the city traffic, I was 20 again. Though the extra few pounds I have put on in the last 50 years made themselves felt at the first red light: my driver, a slightly built man, almost went through the windshield.
What was the round birthday present I really wanted, the one thing that I genuinely enjoyed more than anything else? The same as I had for my fiftieth and sixtieth birthdays: a ride in a hot air balloon. That was fantastic, the same peace and sense of being out of time and space that I had experienced before, with a very smooth, gentle take-off and landing, no bumps and jerks to make me aware of joints and muscles that have rusted. If I can still climb into the basket in ten years’ time, then I’d like to make it known now that for my eightieth, please may I repeat the experience? In the meantime, I’m looking for someone willing to take me paragliding – in tandem, of course.