Last week marked my 40th birthday, a significant milestone for sure. Some might succumb to a sense of gloom at the prospect, and in years past, I might have joined them. However, this birthday felt markedly distinct—not just in the events that unfolded but in my own mindset.
My wonderful wife arranged a family holiday just before my birthday, yet she harbored a secret plan. A few days into the trip, she surprised me with an envelope containing a jet fighter flight over the stunning city of Hobart, Tasmania.
Let me tell you, it was incredible. There’s an “official” DVD with videos and photos on the way, so I’ll share some when I receive it. However, we have several family-taken photos, one of which is to the right.
Being a fighter pilot was a childhood fantasy of mine. (An old school friend actually pursued it and became a Royal Australian Air Force pilot). But what I envisioned in my dreams didn’t quite manifest in reality. My motivation waned, and my life took a different path.
So, climbing into a jet fighter cockpit and taking off, even for just half an hour, was an exhilarating experience. Feeling the up to 4G force was both daunting and thrilling. Thankfully, I managed to keep my composure. I was told that upon landing, I looked as pale as a ghost, but it was an unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime thrill.
My birthday weekend also involved a celebration.
At some point during the party, a figurative cloud that had loomed over me for much of the past decade seemed to dissipate. The light that broke through was a dawn of realisation as I glanced around at my assembled friends and family. I suddenly comprehended how fortunate I am to have such wonderful company. For a brief moment, all my worries and concerns seemed to melt away. I was incredibly content. And here are a few reasons why.
Firstly, we held the party at my in-laws’ family home, a delightful house in a lush green suburb. My wife’s family really outdid themselves. While I’m told they often do this for each other, the effort they put into creating this party for me left me nearly speechless. I’m incredibly grateful for all their hard work.
Secondly, my friends. I invited people I genuinely care about, some of whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time. The theme of the night revolved around my jet fighter flight, with references to Top Gun (a beloved film from my youth!). One friend, Margaret, and her husband Andreas, went above and beyond. Margaret crafted the badges you see to the right, which astonished me with their creativity as a gift, and the fact that someone would go to such lengths. Their other gift was a model kit (another childhood passion I’ve neglected for years) of the jet fighter I flew! Apparently, Andreas scoured hobby shops to find just the right kit. The dedication they showed truly amazed me.
Another friend, Beky, gifted me a beautifully bound notebook and made me promise to use it for my novel.
Everyone bestowed upon me gifts that made me feel incredibly special and loved. I never ask for anything; to me, “presence is present enough” when it comes to birthdays.
Many of my friends attended with their young children. There were a few pre-teens, a handful of what they now term “tweens,” toddlers, and a multitude of babies! I suppose we’re at that stage in life now, but it was heartening to see so many people with their children. Throughout the night, the house echoed with children’s laughter and occasional cries, but it was a welcomed atmosphere.
Lastly, my family. Not just my amazing wife and daughter, but also my siblings. Two out of my four sisters were present (the other two live far away, so they had valid excuses), and my brother, who intended to join, unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute but sent me a heartfelt birthday message. I haven’t seen much of my family in a while, not due to any ill will—our lives simply take different paths, and we don’t actively make much effort to connect. This might surprise some (my wife’s family is very close-knit), but that’s just how we are. Nevertheless, it was truly wonderful to sit and catch up with my two sisters, exchanging stories and sharing prolonged hugs as they departed.
As I mentioned earlier, something shifted for me at that party. For the longest time, I’ve carried… something. Whether it’s anger, regret, or frustration—it’s hard to pinpoint precisely because I hadn’t truly noticed it until recently. However, that party, the warmth from my good friends and family who gathered there for me, the love that enveloped the night, helped me dispel that cloud and recognise how genuinely fortunate I am. Perhaps that feeling may resurface, but now I see it, acknowledge its existence, and when I encounter it, I can confront it head-on.
So, if anything, this turning point in my life—hitting 40—has taught me to let go of regrets and frustrations towards the world. I don’t need these things, much like a Jedi. I aim to be happier, more appreciative. I might not succeed all the time, but I’ll make the effort—and in doing so, perhaps I can brighten not just my own life but also the lives of those who surround me, because at my “long-expected party” over the weekend, they certainly brightened mine.
(Keen observers might notice the title of this post. I’ll leave it to you to discover the reference.)