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Special birthdays

"There was a star danced, and under that was I born."

William Shakespeare

Today is one of my 'special' birthdays. A marker birthday. 80 years. But really it's just another day in my life. And tomorrow is another one, and the one after that, and so on. Some of them will be special, some not. Some of them will be joyous, some will be desolate, and most of them will be somewhere in between. But I shall experience all of them, remember some, forget most and always be grateful.

For indeed "there was a star danced and under that was I born". My generation has reaped the benefits of living in the best of times, and perhaps causing the worst. Although I do remain optimistic. I think. And my individual trajectory has been almost, not quite, completely full of comfort, progress and love, from the day that I was born - 'the sabbath day' even, which should have meant that I was "bonny and bright and blithe and gay".

I was going to ignore this fact completely as far as the blog is concerned, but I suppose it is significant enough to require some attention.

Before I go on, just let me say that I love the Shakespeare quote and I love the photograph of a galaxy somewhere - so more than one star. Let's say the orange line is my life, still shining and still going strong although perhaps not as shiny as at its beginning, although the beginning was dark - being the middle of the war. Still exploring and growing as it travels on. So much more to see.

But 'special' birthdays. Is there such a thing really? This photo is of me on my first birthday - or roundabout that time. The right month anyway. So I guess it was special, but not really for me. It would have been special for my parents I guess, as my children's first birthdays were for me. Maybe more so for them as it must have been a spot of joy in what must have been an alarming, even desperate time. Any parent's child's first birthday is significant of course. The child is becoming 'human' even though they cannot speak and maybe cannot walk, although looking at the shoes on my feet I'm guessing I was walking. However, for me, and of course, there is absolutely no memory of this event. Just a photograph. I doubt I even thought it was special at the time. I would not have had any concept of birthdays - or time even. And I look at it and I don't see me at all. She's a complete stranger.

What other really special birthdays are there? Well for every child every birthday is special - there are parties and presents, and cake. There is always cake. And everyone makes a fuss of you. And you are older. And yet, you know, I cannot remember any childhood birthdays. Just vague memories of birthday parties, but whose they were I have no idea.

Then there is the 18th birthday - special because you can do more - like drink, vote and drive a car. I'm sure there are a whole lot of other things too, although they vary around the world, and even within Australia. 21? It used to be a really big thing didn't it? Heirs and heiresses were able to access some of their inheritance. It used to be that you could marry without consent. Is that still the case or can you do that at 18 now? Anyway 21 was traditionally when you had a big party to represent 'coming of age'. Both of my sons refused to have one. I was at university when I turned 21 and I did throw a party, but then it was any excuse for a party back then - we did it every birthday. I don't think it was a particularly special party.

After that it's a long succession of decade passing birthdays. I started looking for pictures but there are so many to trawl through that I gave up. This one is my 60th in a beautiful village in France called Montclus in the Ardèche region. The decade birthday - or at least the celebration - that I remember most clearly - is my 50th when David and I dined at Paul Bocuse in Lyon. There was a picture but I can't find it. Now that one was memorable but not so much for the party - there was none - but for the grandeur of the restaurant - and the price.

Some countries in the world - I do not know which, although Bhutan is one, do not celebrate birthdays at all. I believe the Jehovah's Witnesses don't either. They think it harks back to pagan times. There are many reasons I'm sure for not celebrating. One might be that you don't have a calendar so you don't know when you were born. If you don't know what day it is how can you know your age?

What are we celebrating anyway? Today for example - and 80 years. Yes I guess it's a milestone. Maybe even a time to pause and reflect on time past and time to come, but really it's just another day. Usually nothing changes. It's only those legal milestones that are important with respect to a change in your life. It's definitely a good excuse to have a really good meal out, or to get together with friends and family, but even presents, at this time of life anyway, are redundant. There is absolutely nothing more that I need. Indeed I should be throwing out stuff not gathering more. And if birthdays are a celebration what am I celebrating when I turn 80? That I have attained 80 years? Yes - worth celebrating, and in good health too. Am I celebrating all the good things that have happened in my life? Well yes I should. But really it's a bit like holidays - once over quickly forgotten. We move on.

Some, shall we say, old, people find birthdays something to dread - I think perhaps David does. A step nearer to death if you are being melodramatic. One friend said that when her husband turned 80 he suddenly decided that he was old. Why I have to ask, because, you are no different today than tomorrow.

"Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." Mark Twain

Having reflected on all this - indeed I may have to make a mini speech at the weekend's family party (I hope not) - so I am pondering on what I want to say - having reflected - I have decided it's not the birthdays that matter, that are game-changing, it's certain events in your life.

Being born, is of course the greatest life-changing event. LIFE begins. And yet we do not remember. For your parents and for us when we become a parent, however, it's a huge change. Particularly - and this is possibly a little unfair - for the first born. Here I am with my very new first born. He looks anxious. I thought he looked anxious when he was born, but I may well have been projecting my own anxiety upon him I suppose. It's not just parenthood and all that that entails though, it's finally understanding your mother I think. Realising, why she worried so much.

Childhood brings changes - starting school, moving on to a higher level school, maybe moving house and needing to find new friends. Then eventually we leave home. For me it was a partial removal to university where massive changes in my life happened, and where I had lost the safety mat of home, and had to think and live for myself. However, always with the help of friends and mum on the end of the telephone line. University culminated in graduation, meeting David and the search for a career. How we leave home varies from person to person, depending on their personal circumstances. Probably for anyone the years from your late teens into middle age are the most eventful years of life - for good or ill - and the ones we remember most clearly. The rest is a bit of a blur.

For me, eventually - a year or more after leaving university it was marriage that changed my life again. Now I had to consider another person's likes and dislikes, learn to manage money properly, learn to cook!

And then we start to do all the things our parents did. Well we had, of course, been doing that from the day that we were born, but now we were conscious of it. Our life changes were not identical to our parents' of course. Circumstances and times are different, but the big things - marriage, children, moving house, changing jobs - in our case moving countries - those are the constants of life.

So now our babies are grown and have babies of their own, so we are grandparents. And those tiny babies shown here, are now fifteen and much taller than I - in the case of the little boy on the right - taller than his father too.

All of those very special things that changed our lives completely, not all of them good it has to be said, those are the things we need to celebrate. Not the fact that I have now completed 80 years on this planet. Maybe the real reason for celebrating birthdays though is to recall all those other much more special life changing moments. Even the bad ones - because time is a great healer and we learn from our mistakes.

This is the most recent photograph I have of me - from Christmas last when it was warm. I suppose I could have got David to take one today. Tomorrow maybe. Today is just another day. He is chopping wood in the garden. I am writing a blog, and then I will go and make dinner - which, maybe serendipitously - will be soup. But without the stuff on top. Now shall I make a cake. They do say there should always be cake.

"There are two great days in a person's life - the day we are born and the day we discover why." William Barclay

Alas I don't think I know why yet, other than that my parents loved each other and wanted a child to continue their lives into the unknown future.

So much to look forward to.


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