This is not a particularly happy birthday. I have friends who are very sad. Moncton just suffered an unbelievable 30 hour stand-off with a selfish asshole who felt he needed to kill people in order to make a statement. And then there’s the rest of the world. As the sun goes down on the first day of this new year, I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that I am fortunate and have everything to celebrate (including a delicious bottle of wine, of which I’ve already drunk too much) with the heart-wrenching truth of millions of my neighbours.
And so I reflect on the past year and it becomes quickly, glaringly obvious that the only pure and guilt-free source of happiness as a privileged Canadian in 2014 is that which springs from connections and relationships with other people and/or the natural world (bonus points when the two exist simultaneously). I am not grateful for the things I have, although I do appreciate them and recognize that I often take many of them for granted. I cannot celebrate my accomplishments because they are relative and so shallow in comparison to scores of others. I recognize that my health is minimally reflective of things within my control and, in large part, due to luck and circumstance and a thousand other things I will never understand because, well, science. Even art – music, creative expression – is somewhat of a luxury and not entirely justifiable as something to celebrate when pain and turmoil whip and whirl all around us: just this past weekend, Jian Ghomeshi (who, incidentally, shares a birthday with me) took a moment before Toronto’s illustrious Luminato Festival to dedicate the show to three fallen RCMP officers and their families in Moncton, presumably because he felt uncomfortable engaging in frivolous merry-making when fellow citizens were reeling from fresh and immediate tragedy. But there is always someone reeling.
Regardless of the fatal flaws of our society and the doomsday prophecies we can’t seem to shake, I suppose I feel warranted in celebrating my teeny, tiny 37 years on Planet Earth because I know I have woven this life within a complex and beautiful network of incredible people who make the world a better place every single day. It’s not to say that they wouldn’t be doing that were I not here, but I do believe that our friendships and family ties have filled this place with more love, more laughter and more peace, and helped tip the scales a little bit more in favour of general goodness. So that’s it, then. That’s what Happy Birthday means to me today, this year. It’s hearing from friends and family, being reminded of things worth celebrating and finding myself humbled by the scope of human emotion. It’s receiving a message from someone I love, respect and admire, and realizing with enormous gratitude that the feeling is mutual. It’s recognizing that I’m touching the lives of people who will, in turn, go on to touch other lives, and so on and so forth; the ripple effect of which I am so thankfully a part.
And so this birthday is not necessarily a happy one, at least not when posted up against such blissfully ignorant heavy-hitters as my 12th birthday co-ed surprise party in Marney’s backyard or my 30th birthday white-water paddling trip on the Petawawa River in Algonquin Park. But it is a beautiful and honest, if slightly solemn, birthday, and one I hope never to forget.