Another year has gone by, and another birthday arrives to remind me. It’s funny to think how much things have changed since we were children. The world used to stop for our birthday. We were kings and queens for twenty four hours every year. I remember my twin sister and I would start counting down the days as soon as October came around. It was always the most exciting part of the year.
Then, slowly, birthdays became less exciting. The countdowns started later, and the parties became less extravagant. Eventually, we stopped caring. Some of us have started to dread the day we turn another year older.
For me, birthdays have become routine. It always involves a little bit of cake, some close friends, some family, and too many vodka shots. Lately, birthdays have been followed by a day or two of recovery (in bed, with Netflix). For the most part I couldn’t tell you a single thing that has separated one birthday from another. Except for this year.
Something happened that has never happened before; not a single person has asked me what I wanted for my birthday. It was with this realisation that something strange dawned on me. This was the first time in my life I could have answered that question from the bottom of my heart.
Growing up, we used to love the question of what we wanted for our birthday. It gave us a chance to voice all of the superficial and material desires that raced through our little minds. Race cars, Barbies, video games, shoes, a new hockey stick, the list goes on. We were shamelessly invested in the fantasy of our birthday. We were convinced the day was so magical it might actually produce all of these things that we wanted.
But those weren’t the things we truly wanted, were they? Those wants were the result of targeted advertising aimed at the minds of tiny children and young adults. Those desires were what someone else convinced us we wanted and needed. Those wants came from being convinced we weren’t good enough the way we were. Those desires were someone else’s idea of happiness, a happiness of the material kind. Our birthday lists were so long because pursuing material happiness is endless. Material desires will always leave us searching, wanting, and needing more.
Part of my journey to Australia was inspired by the growing resistance against the idea of waking up one day and being sixty years old. I was terrified I’d work for the weekends for my entire young adulthood, scrape by with the money I earned over fifty hour work weeks, and spend it buying things I didn’t love or need in order to pursue somebody else’s idea of happiness.
And that’s not to say I don’t like the idea of the picket fence, walking in the garden with the girl of my dreams, with miniature versions of ourselves running around (hopefully stressing us out less than I did my parents), with a family dog chasing them around the yard.
BUT maybe that picket fence isn’t in the suburbs. Maybe it’s at the end of a long dirt road that twists and bends, with a few large evergreens on either side. Maybe my nearest neighbour is half a day’s walk away. Maybe the food we’re eating is picked from our own garden. Maybe I’m running around all day with the kids and the dog, because I don’t have to put on a suit every day and leave my family before the sun rises and come home after the sun sets. Maybe my kitchen smells like the jasmine, basil, and mint growing in small pots in the sunlight pouring in from the window. Maybe my wife laughs at me when I buy her a necklace, not because its not from Tiffany’s, but because we both know she’ll never wear it. We both know we’ve never measured or demonstrated our love in this manner. Maybe we can lay in the grass together like children, after ours have gone to bed, and look up at the stars without a veil of light pollution obstructing our connection to the heavens. Maybe we’ll fall asleep under those stars because she feels so warm in my arms. Maybe my arm will fall asleep too, but maybe she looks too beautiful to disturb her when she’s sleeping.
Maybe I’ll find a way there. Maybe I’ll have my picket fence on a plot of land. Maybe I’ll be the boy of her dreams. Maybe I’ll be the loving father I know is inside of me. Maybe I won’t. Maybe it’s not in the cards for me. Either way, I know which journey I want to take. At least it’s not someone else’s version of happiness. At least it’s not someone else’s vision of the perfect life. At least it’s my own dream that I’m chasing. At least I’m being honest about who I am.
There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.” George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman.
So, even though no one has asked me, I’ll tell you what I want for my birthday:
I want you to strip away all the of the influence society has had on your mind. I want you to search deep inside of your heart. Dive into the very depths of your soul. Find that child inside of you that was never convinced of being anyone other than exactly who you are. I want you to ask yourself – ask that child – what it is that you actually want in life.
And then I want you to go and get it.
Be good to each other,