You know what gets old? Platitudes.
We've all been guilty of leaning on them at some stage in our lives - it's human impulse to regurgitate the more lucid opinions of people you respect when a topic arises for which you haven't quite given yourself the space to develop an opinion. Most of the time, a superficial remark can informs our values. Other times, it can contribute to our own lack of initiative and actually prevent us from critically examining both the world around us, and how we relate to it.
Everyone has a few pet peeves and I am no exception. I've flipped from whining that "adulting is haaaaard," to seeing this as self-infantilisation. Yeah, I hate decoding my tax bills via Google Translate as much as anyone, but the fact that I even have the opportunity to complain about something like that is testament to how much freedom I have now. When people feel adrift, it seems they always end up latching onto 'adulting' as the self-indulgent scapegoat, rather than admit that these responsibilities are the trade-offs for the perks. I don't use that term anymore. I don't miss it.
It's easy to lose perspective of the multifaceted richness of life. Once upon a time, I'd have called myself a misanthropic extrovert and only cringed about 48% of how much I should have, but now my profound appreciation of silver linings is a huge defining characteristic of my life. Like most people, it came as a result of an abrupt and violent introduction to the concept of death at a young age. And I'm not talking about the 'all dogs go to heaven' kind.
The premature knowledge of mortality changes everyone. To an extent, both my personality and my life path were forever altered by it. Maybe I don't even know how much. When I was younger, it meant being highly risk averse - at night, I'd walk the fifty metres from the tram stop to my front door with my house keys studded between my fingers, despite living in one of the most idyllic, sleepy neighbourhoods Melbourne has to offer. It meant leaving house parties before midnight turned me back into a pumpkin instead of an invincible adolescent, even though all my friends would stay until the early hours of the morning and sobered up on the long walk home. I'd piece together their pre-dawn adventures through breathless retellings at school on Monday morning. That risk aversion is also why my sense of nostalgia is ever-tinted by the bittersweet; why I can see myself appear on-screen in the official Glastonbury 2017 highlight reel on someone else's airplane television screen and, despite that dehydrated giddiness of flying, feel a pang of loneliness instead of amusement.
If we understand that we will never live as long as we think we deserve, we can triage our priorities accordingly. To decide what you'd do if money were no option but time was limited... and the opposite.
I am the same age that my mother was when she gave birth to me. I have outlived the uncle who bounced me on his knee and speculated on the kind of adult I'd become. I have outlived the friend from school whose funeral was standing-room only, my brother's best friend with the electric blue eyes whom I'd had a (presumably obvious) crush on, the colleague who saved thousands of lives through her work but was still too young for those numbers to mean anything. I have outlived my cousin, who I loved with an uncomplicated and devoted territoriality. He had always, always been 11 months older than me. Until he wasn't.
Time marches on.
I love birthdays with that starry-eyed fanaticism of the newly rehabilitated. Perhaps before that first unexpected, traumatic lesson of the sheer impermanence of life, I might have not have. But I do, and with great aplomb. I agonise over presents. I fantasise about treats and meals and hosting parties. I am whatever is the inverse of a boggart would be in Harry Potter: I want to know what is closest to your heart, and I'll half-kill myself to source it for you in the hopes that you will feel all-consumingly blissful, adored, and alive. I want there to be competition in your mind when you try to quantify the best day of your life. I want every single day to be the best day of your life. But that's an ambitious dream and I am but one person; fortunate enough to live a life enriched by connections with thousands of amazing people. So I will buy your novel on pre-order and ask you to sign my copy. I will come to the first yoga class you teach and park in the front row to prove that I'm not just there out of loyalty; I'll sweat just as hard as anyone else. I'll surprise you at work with fancy donuts because you mentioned that you love them but can't justify the expense. I will celebrate you - and all that you are - as much as time, money, and our friendship allows... and if no other occasion arises throughout the year, your birthday is a failsafe opportunity to do just that.
The world is made of Squidwards and Spongebobs. Don't be on the wrong side of history. (Or if you must, at least be a Patrick.)
Without fail, I feel disappointed when someone says they are not excited about their birthday. That's their prerogative, but with the same confidence of a child who just knows better than the adults who for some reason don't understand that they can have ice cream any time of day at all, I am bemused. I wonder how we ever became so ashamed of loving ourselves that we shirk the spotlight on the one day a year that is our (birth)right. How can we be so self-flagellating?
"I don't celebrate birthdays. I'd rather we not mention it," someone will inevitably say when they notice my eyes illuminating. Though they rarely say it, they're usually cautioning me silently at the same time: Don't make a fuss.
"Why?" I ask, knowing the answer will be the same (it always is).
"A birthday is just another year closer to death."
But oh, my darling, how misguided it is to say that. We are not entitled to so much as the next minute of existence; another birthday marks another year that you have cheated a tragedy that could have come at any moment.
A birthday is a victory. It is a sign that we have snatched another 365 days from the slavering jaws of our own mortality. The game of life is high-stakes, and not everybody during the course of this year has been so fortunate as to emerge with a heart that beats and lungs that deflate and inflate and a mind that ripples with electric currents that set our puppet strings to dancing.
This perspective is important to me. I have somehow come this far when undoubtedly more worthy people have not, and one day, someone reading this might outlive me. And yes, I'd much rather live forever (or die trying), but that's what makes having an objective marker of how far we've come so special.
Can't you see how fucking lucky we are?
Today I get to eat potato chips which crunch and snap and explode salt on my tongue as I sit in a fluffy bathrobe and enjoy the pleasant muscular ache after last night's yoga class. I was exhausted - I'd been tempted to stay home until I saw I'd missed the cancellation window - but decided to persist and emerged feeling rejuvenated. Now, as seagulls skate by my living room window in lazy semi-circles, I can pore over my computer, creating new ways to express - through the limited medium of language - how instrumental the work of advocates and educators has been in saving lives in countries I might never see.
It's not an action-packed, giddying, perfect day. Since I've discovered the 3 Good Things app (self-explanatory in function), I've found that a day doesn't have to be any of those things to be a good one. And that helps me keep perspective, because maybe someone with chronic illness would love to have a day like the one I am taking for granted right now. Maybe an incarcerated person would pine for the luxury of 'adulting'. Maybe someone who will not have another birthday would give anything to go back in time and celebrate the last one they snubbed.
People struggle to appreciate what is stable in their lives. We are a hungry, ambitious species that thrive the most when what we want is just out of reach. Maybe we don't appreciate things like our responsibilities, our bodies, our wellbeing, our birthdays... or at least, not until we learn just how hard it is to no longer have them. But it doesn't mean we can't learn.
It is a privilege to be alive, particularly when odds have been stacked against us at even from the crude biological level of conception. I am not willing to squander it.
And if you'll allow me, I won't let you either.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.