Sunday, September 17, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

I am 35 years old.

We have had a great time for my birthday. After all the excitement of the Little Dude's birthday, I really wanted a quiet one for myself, so we just gathered some friends and had a barbequeue at the local park. And enjoyed one of those moments where everything seems perfect - the sun shining, my friends and I gossiping together, the barbequeue sizzling, our kids playing on the swings and running around the park. I had vague thoughts about sex afterwards, but in fact we were both way too tired, so there was a quiet beer in front of one of my favourite TV shows (Elizabeth I - I love Helen Mirren) and a foot massage instead. Not too shabby!

And now, of course, I am pondering how my life is going. Last year, my birthday was the day I came home from the hospital after having the Little Dude. On that evening, we toasted the birth of the Little Dude and the promotion I had won two weeks before. As my partner said, at 34 years old, it seemed I had achieved all the things I wanted: "PhD, tick! Executive career, tick! Baby, tick!"

And in a way, its true. In the last ten years or so, I have:

· Lived in an intentional community for three years, where I learned a lot about spirituality and finding God in ordinary things
· Worked for a range of causes I believe in
· Nurtured some very good friendships
· Done a PhD
· Written a book and had it published
· Established a fairly successful career that includes at least some meaningful work that makes my country a better place and that can support my little family
· Finally, after many years, learned how to be mostly happy with the man I love
· Had a child

I am particularly proud of those last two items.

I know that my relationship has flaws and problems. But I am proud of the fact that, faced with issues of age difference and ageing, chronic illness, financial and sexual problems, the legacy of war, infertility and other issues, we are not only still together, but we still love and respect each other. We have taken a lot of hits, and we have faced them with at least some courage and a lot of love.

Am I imagining that many couples would have buckled under these things? No, I am not. I see enough of veterans' families to know that we have managed to avoid a host of problems like alcoholism, family violence, and the death of intimacy. Not to mention that, at the veterans' wives group I used to go to, I was the only one who was getting laid at all!

Fifteen years after we first met, we are closer than we have ever been, and probably happier together than we have ever been. I see my partner look at me with love and pride in his eyes. I look around at the couples I know, especially the couples with a background in the Vietnam War, and I know how lucky we are.

And our boy is my greatest achievement. I am so proud of him that I could burst.

It seems like a good list. And yet, I am haunted by the fear that it is not enough. That, at some level, time is slipping away, and with it the opportunity to do something great with my life. I am thinking about Andrew Marvell's poem To His Coy Mistress:

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near

People talk about "fulfilling my potential". I want more than that. I want to exceed my potential. Just bound right over a thing as limited and boring as my potential. I feel like I should be pursuing some great adventure. Achieving great things. Curing cancer. Saving the world. And I'm not.

Not long ago, I read Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. It was a wonderful book, but what really made me think was a review of it I read:

This extraordinary and, in the end, rather frighteningly clever novel isn't about cloning, or being a clone, at all. It's about why we don't explode, why we don't just wake up one day and go sobbing and crying down the street, kicking everything to pieces out of the raw, infuriating, completely personal sense of our lives never having been what they could have been.

Is just learning to appreciate what I have, to see God in ordinary things, the right lesson to learn? Or is that just some kind of giant cop-out that is preventing me from doing something more?

And what would that something more be?

17 Comments:

Blogger Rob said...

"Is just learning to appreciate what I have, to see God in ordinary things, the right lesson to learn?"

Well yes and no, Emily. Btw, a belated happy birthday and a reminder to update your blog profile - you are no longer 34! :-)

Yes, it's wise to accept and not take for granted all that you have been blessed with. And no, never be satisfied with the status quo but always strive to better yourself and seek to achieve more out of life.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Mu Ling said...

Happy Birthday, Emily!

I have been asking myself many of the same questions lately. I wish I had some answers, but I don't.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Dewdrop said...

Happy Birthday to you :).

11:44 PM  
Blogger C-Marie said...

Happy Birthday!!

3:15 AM  
Blogger Satan said...

Happy Birthday - here's to another year of appreciating what you have (and no, that's not a cop-out!)

3:25 AM  
Blogger freebird said...

Happy Birthday, Emily! You could add 'brilliant blog' to your list of accomplishments!

4:05 AM  
Blogger trueself said...

Happy birthday Emily!

5:00 AM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

I'm interested to hear more about the 'intentional community'; I've spent many years living in what could be called an 'intentional community'.

And - Happy Birthday! 35 pretty makes you a certifiable grown-up, doesn't it?

;)

7:16 AM  
Blogger aphron said...

Happy birthday!

It's hard enough to find contentment, much less happiness. It seems you're a lot closer than many.

8:03 AM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Happy Birthday Emily, and congrats on your achievements.

I think you are closer to truth by learning to accept and appreciate the happiness all around you, than by trying to achieve more to be more contented or happy.

Pusuing happiness thru career, income, spending, consuming, gaining more titles or honors is almost always a path to empty success. In your case it may be a more fulfilling path as you seem to have arrived at a point in your career where you are truly a public servant.

To grow in service and unity with others, and in wise action for others might not be a bad goal for the next 35 years.

Just my 2 cents, thanks, OB.

I do agree there is much merit with trying to better yourself, either for your self-actualization or your enjoyment.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Tiny Tones said...

Happy birthday, Emily!

I like your style girl. I will drop in often and read what you have been up to and thanks for reading my blog and posting a comment.

Congratulations on your many achievements thus far. As Kahlil Gibran wrote so beautifully in 'The Prophet': "For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life's procession that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite. When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music." I read that passage when I start to feel a bit resentful of my job and sorry for myself - it always sorts me out.

I'm quite well read for a 2 and a half inch tall fox, don't you think?

3:21 PM  
Blogger O272 said...

Happy belated bday, Emily!

Some say we only live once...so make it good just in case! ;)

4:57 PM  
Blogger Tajalude said...

Happy Birthday!! Birthdays seem to always be a time of reflection. I hope your reflections bring you happiness!

5:24 PM  
Blogger oblivion said...

I hope you had a great birthday Emily. Sorry I'm a bit behind to say so!!!

Oblivion

4:37 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

1:44 AM  
Blogger FTN said...

And oh yeah, happy birthday. Since everyone else has said it already. You're just a young pup at 35, you've got PLENTY of time to figure life out.

Although you ARE older than me. I gotta respect my elders. :-)

8:29 AM  
Blogger starrynite said...

Belated happy birthday :)

I love Kazuo Ishiguro and got that book as soon as it came out. I read it in 2 days I think. It totally knocked me for 6. It's an amazing book that was beautiful and awful at the same time. That review did put it so amazingly well - I felt so angry on behalf of the characters I wanted to go on the rampage for them!

I love writers who really make you think.

6:55 PM  

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