Three weeks ago, on Saturday 22nd of January to be precise, I turned eighty. This blog is about that birthday and how, despite earlier worries coupled with elements of dread, the day turned out to be very special. Amongst other things I had often thought that I might not last long enough to be there to celebrate in person – at my age the future is so uncertain! Even on the Friday evening I had my doubts, but when I woke on the day itself, I had clearly made it and after Rohan gave me a kiss, her presents and her best wishes for a happy birthday, a wonderful day unfurled. It was a day ultimately dominated by happiness bordering on euphoria the likes of which I had rarely experienced and would never have predicted.
One of the overriding feelings was that “I’ve done it”, a phrase that echoed repeatedly in my head. Here I was at 80 still relatively unscathed, yet when I turned sixty I had believed that I was unlikely to survive past 73 – the age my father died after having a heart condition for years. A quick review told me that I was physically and mentally healthy, living comfortably and able to enjoy autonomy in circumstances where I have no troubling limitations. Yes, I am now slower and get tired more easily, but I am still writing my blogs, learning French, driving, playing chess and – most days – going to the gym and doing my 10,000 steps.
Like most others I am greatly helped by medical advances – in my case cataract removal, prostate surgery, asthma puffers, hearing aids etc, but no matter, health-wise I still work well and feel optimistic. I know that many others of my age can do all this and more, but now I had joined them. All reason enough to be content.
Amusingly, aware of my claims of well-being, Ollie, my youngest son, submitted me to an unusual health test. At our birthday dinner for four – zealous COVID limitations – Ollie was keen to test one of my bodily functions – my sense of taste. With a serious face and no hint of his intentions he presented me with his gift – a carefully wrapped and expensive bar of chocolate which, for purist reasons contained 100% cocoa and for health reasons, no sugar. In the spirit of adventure and as a statement of gratitude I took a bite. When I spat it out Ollie told me how I had passed the test – he knew it to be disgusting and from my reaction my taste system was clearly working wonderfully!
Now to the second of the day’s dominant feelings – I found myself feeling loved, wanted, even valued. This may be a fanciful notion but these sentiments are for me rare and unexpected. And, of course, if these are in the offing who would not be happy?
On the day, after Rohan’s early morning affirmation, I read the many loving and generous birthday messages that arrived from friends and family. First there were early morning emails and texts, some of whom were from people I had not seen for years. And later a score of cards delivered by post or by hand, amongst which were two that were home made specially (see the illustrations). Interestingly, on my birthdays over the years I have always received warm messages but somehow at 80 they now touched me much more.
In the day there was also the oddest of perceptual changes as I became besotted with the figure ‘8’. On almost all of my cards there was, in large type, the number ‘80’, and with each one the number ‘8’ stood out as a generously rounded and beautifully symmetrical icon. Every ten years up until now I had put up with the spiky, not to say mean, asymmetry of the numbers ‘1’ to ‘7’. This sudden attraction for, if not adoption of the voluptuous ‘8’ added a uniqueness to the day’s pleasures.
It has been difficult to convey how happy and fulfilled I felt on my 80th birthday; feelings that came as a complete surprise and, interestingly such feelings are unusual. I have now spoken to several old friends and, generally, their eightieth experiences were much more reserved, for some filled with foreboding. No matter, I am hoping that my own feelings will buoy me up till my 90th at least and, after three weeks, I am still on course!
The first illustration shows the birthday card made for me by my sister Sarah. The front is made from one sheet of paper carefully painted, folded and cut to display eighty flags giving the feel of a three dimensional rainbow. The second is from a birthday card in which River has drawn my portrait. He is nearly four.
For helping me write this blog, in addition to countless well-wishers I would like to thank Ruth, River, Ollie, Sarah, Rohan and Vivien.