My attitude towards my birthday has always fluctuated. For some reason, I can never remember the major milestone ages: I think I turned 18 pretty much without fanfare (except for my immediate exercise of my new right to buy alcohol), I turned 21 while on exercises in Thailand with the SAF, and now I’m turning 30 while staying up way too late for my ageing body checking my email because one of the joys of growing older is finding out that work never waits.
I also don’t remember when the last time was I felt glad that I was growing older. Most of those birthdays passed by without me feeling much older: I feel like I was 15 until I turned 21, and then stuck at 21 until I was 25, at which age I’ve more or less remained. But tonight, I feel old. I feel terrible, actually.
It’s been so long since I last felt carefree, or even just glad about something I did. With some very few, very notable exceptions, I don’t feel like I’ve even done anything right for years. Since I graduated from Cambridge, it feels like I slipped on the stairs and have been falling, ever since, just tumbling from one step to another, lower, bone-bruising step. It’s been one disappointment after another, a nonstop, unrewarding, unrecognised scramble to stay abreast of a tidal wave of mediocrity.
Five years a working adult, and I feel ready to throw in the towel. I look back at the last five years of trying desperately to be relevant, to make a difference, to just connect with something worthwhile, and think of the glaring nothing I’ve achieved and project that on to the future, and I can feel my heart grow grey. For every student saved, a class goes under; for every meaningful or rewarding connection, endless hours of drivel.
I’m 30 today and I feel twice that. I feel used-up, wrung-out. I feel like a scalpel that’s been used as a shovel. I know how it feels, oh my dear Alfie, “to rust unburnished, not to shine in use”. I feel under-utilised and overstretched at the same time. My blood feels thick, my skin thin.
I’ve worn down my body and my mind and for what?
Perhaps as a younger, more ambitious, more brash young man, I might have said that sentiment is meaningless and that only achievement counts. But tonight I’m 30 and all I have is sentiment. I mark the absence of regret as my brightest joy.
A family I will never regret having been born-into, brought-up in, growing-up with. Friends I will never regret having been vulnerable with. A beloved fiancée I have no regrets having wooed and won. You I remember with a joy that remains constant, fresh and welling-up unceasingly from old memory and new acquaintance. When I look back on 30 years on this Earth, I can’t help but think that what I truly celebrate is that all of you were born, and that we could meet the way we did, and that we are as we are.
If there is anything that I should like to remember to mark 30 spent years, it is you.
And if, next year, at the end of my 30th year, I should have anything to be glad of, may it first and foremost be you, all of you.
And if I want to have more good tidings besides, to have something else worth celebrating… well, I guess it’s up to me, isn’t it?