…and I am liking it.
While my distaste for birthdays during my twenties confounded my friends and family, getting to thirty was a turning point for me, and for the last decade I have enjoyed the natural progression of years that inevitably comes around every 365 days or so. (taking leap years into account)
More so in the last couple of years after the great-big-dose-of-perspective train pulled into bon anniversaire station (I know, bask in my use of French). The metaphoric train was driven by a guy who I passed every Saturday on the way in to my apartment building.
His name is Charles.
Charles was the Saturday security/door/direct-food-deliveries-to-the-correct-apartment guy.
Always happy, and definitely up for a chat with anyone who came through the door, his smile is one that, when offered, lit up his entire face…and about twenty square feet around him.
Over the months that we lived in that building I’d often stop and chat with Charles for a half hour or so on a Saturday morning, and he’d tell me about what he wanted to achieve and how he hoped to achieve it. He was driven to go forward in the world, his greatest fear was that of becoming a “shadow-man” a concept that he explained as a person who had not lived or strived to reach full potential.
One particular week, the weekday security guy let me know that it was Charles’ birthday on the coming Saturday, so when the Saturday arrived I picked up a couple of extra things on my way home and gave them to him and sang happy birthday. (I have a highly diminished embarrassment gland – I’ll sing happy birthday to anyone, anywhere).
He grinned his trademark grin and said “Thankyou Mr Andrew, you are the first to sing me happy birthday since I came to this country.”
I told him that thanking me for my croaking efforts was, at best, charity on his part, and we opened a couple of juices and settled in to our Saturday chat.
“How old are you today Charles?” I asked.
“Today I am 23,” he said.
“Congratulations!” I said, shaking his hand
He smiled, took a swig of his juice.
“Today is the day I become a man.”
I took this to mean that there was probably some kind of Ugandan right-of-passage thing going on, my naive thoughts dominated by ceremony and such as might be visited upon a 23 year old male in his society.
“Is this a Ugandan thing, Charles? Is there a special celebration for turning 23…”
“No, this is not cultural,” he said, and then went on to say something that had a profound effect on the way I have since considered birthdays…
“Today I turn 23, so today I am a man, because today is the day I outlive my Father, he died when he was 22,” he said, still smiling.
I’ll never complain about a birthday ever again, and while my 30’s birthdays have been happy ones, since that discussion with Charles I have embraced the gift of getting older with gusto.