It’s my birthday today. I am 34. Birthdays, particularly when one gets older, always invite reflection: another year has gone by, how am I doing? Am I any wiser, wearier, happier, crazier than last year? How visible are the inevitable signs of physical decline?
My father died on my 18th birthday, 16 years ago today. This fact adds a symbolic resonance – each year as I celebrate another year of my life, I also mark another since his death. Those 16 years feel like a lifetime but also a few seconds.
Everyone knows life is transient and brief – we are mayflies in the vastness of human history, much as we all crawl around busily trying to single ourselves out and make our little mark. Losing someone close to you only serves to underline that, and maybe makes you question yourself a little more urgently: am I making the most of my own little timeslot? As an atheist, I don’t believe I will ever get to lean back on a cloudy celestial beanbag to play cards with my dad again – much as that is an appealing thing to believe. So my little earthly timeslot really is all there is, and 34 years of it have already been used up. How the feck did that happen?!
If I sound a bit gloomy and deep, that’s not my intention. I am grateful for the time I did have with my dad (even though with hindsight, I could perhaps have spent some of it more constructively than having blazing rows over me wearing cut-off jeans that I had accidentally cut off to leave not much more than the front zip and back pockets – sorry Dad). I am also really quite contented with there not being anything after death other than bone-licking worms – it’s never bothered me particularly.
But the question remains, as I am about to embark on the 35th year of my life: how am I doing? On the face of it, not particularly well: I don’t own a house, I don’t have a job, I don’t have children. My pension pot is minuscule. As I grow older, I seem to get progressively less grown-up. I party more, and harder, than I ever did in my twenties. Most of my crockery doesn’t match.
Despite all of that, however, I am feeling quite pleased with where those 34 years have got me. I’m definitely doing way better than last year, even though last year I was in a steady job earning decent money. My mum said a couple of days ago that I seem a lot less stressed now than when I was working. Believe me, I still get stressed plenty of times, but overall she’s probably right. I feel, well, free I suppose. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I’m kind of looking forward to another year of being an irresponsible adult.