I turned 40 last week. A milestone birthday, sure. Some would let themselves fall into depression at the thought, and in years gone by I would have joined them. But this birthday was so very different. Not only in the events, but in my attitude.
My darling wife had organised a family holiday for just before my birthday, but little did I know she had a secret plan. A couple of days into the holiday, she surprised me with an envelope which was a jet fighter flight over the beautiful city of Hobart, Tasmania.
Let me just say, it was awesome. There is an “official” DVD with video and photos coming, so I’ll post some of those when I get it, however we have several family taken photos of which one is to the right.
To be a fighter pilot was a fantasy of mine when I was in High School. (An high school friend actually went on and became a Royal Australian Air Force pilot, though not fighters). Alas what I held in my dream I did not make up for in reality. I lacked motivation and my life went a different route.
So to climb into a jet fighter cockpit and take off, even for half an hour, was a thrill. Feeling the up to 4G force was scary and exciting. I (fortunately) kept my lunch. I’m reliably told when we landed I was as white as a sheet, however it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I’ll never forget.
Last weekend was also my party.
At some point during my party, a cloud parted over me. This cloud has followed me around for the better part of a decade. The light that shone through was a great dawn for me, as I looked around at my gathered friends and family and realised how fortunate I am to have such company. Perhaps only for a little while, all my worries and concerns melted away. I was so exceedingly happy. And I want to explain a few reasons why.
Firstly, we held the party at my in-law’s family home, a lovely house in a leafy green suburb. And my wife’s family really put on. I’m told they do this all the time for each other, but the level of work that went into creating this party for me left me near speechless. For all that work, I am so thankful.
Secondly, my friends. I invited people I care about, some of whom I’ve not seen in some time. A theme through the night was my jet fighter flight, and its Top Gun connections (a favourite film of mine from my youth!). One friend, Margaret and her husband Andreas, went to what I feel extraordinary lengths. She created the badges you see to the right, which impressed me incredibly for their creativeness as a gift and the fact that someone would go so out of their way. The other part of their gift was a model kit (another passion of mine from youth, haven’t touched one in years though) of the jet fighter in which I flew! Apparently Andreas scoured the hobby shops looking for just the right kit. That someone would spend all that time and effort on me just amazed me. (Picture shamelessly stolen from her site)
Another friend, Beky, gave me a beautifully bound notebook and made me promise to produce my novel with it.
Everyone gave me gifts that made me feel so special and loved. I never ask for anything; to me, “presence is present enough” when it comes to birthdays.
And so many of my friends and their little kids with them. There were a few pre-teens, a handful of what they now call “tweens”, toddlers and so many babies! I guess we’re at that age now, but it was fantastic to see so many people with their children. For a lot of the night the house was full of children laughing and screaming and a few crying, but no one minded.
Finally, family. Not just my wife and daughter, who are stupendous, but my siblings as well. Two of my four sisters were there (the other two live interstate or overseas so had excuses!) and my brother, who was going to attend, alas had to bow out at the last moment but sent me a birthday message. I have not seen any of my family in a long time, not for any nefarious reasons: we are not that sort of family. We just have separate lives and don’t especially make much of an effort. This is surprising to some (my wife’s family are very close) but is just the way we are. However it was so lovely to sit and chat with my two sisters, catch up, and give them really long hugs as they left.
As I mentioned earlier, a cloud parted for me at that party. For the longest time I’ve carried… something. Be it an anger, regret, frustration… something which is hard for me to describe, as I’d not really noticed it until very recently. However that party and the good friends and family who came there for me, the love shown to me that night, helped me to clear away that cloud and appreciate how truly lucky I am. Maybe the feeling will return, but I see it now, I know it’s there, and when I recognise it I can fight it.
So if anything, I take that away from my turning 40. Regrets, frustration at the world – a jedi need not these things. I shall endeavour to be happier, more appreciative. Maybe I wont be all the time, but I shall try – and in the trying, perhaps I can brighten not just my life, but the lives of the people who surround me, for on the weekend at my “long-expected party”, they certainly brightened mine.
(Astute observers will note the title of this post. I’ll leave it to you to find the reference.)