BIRTHDAYS AND BUCKET LISTS
A few years ago, I had a colleague who was determined to learn horseback riding. She took lessons on weekday mornings and sometimes she arrived at the office looking the worse for the experience. I told her I admired her spirit, and she suggested I join her. I surprised myself when I told her that there were things in life I simply wasn't going to get around to doing, and horseback riding was probably going to be one of them. Not that I had anything against it, but simply because, with each passing year, life ceases to be the blank canvas with limitless possibilities we thought we saw in our youth. With time, the limits just become easier to see. We realize the canvas was never really blank -- just smaller than it used to be.
So yes, this is a birthday column written by a former little girl who imagined that it was only a matter of time until her birthday, sandwiched between Lincoln's Birthday and Valentine's Day, would become a holiday in its own right, making a trifecta for a grateful world. By the time the little girl turned 13 on Friday the 13th, no other date for a birthday was conceivable. And so for years, boyfriends and then husbands have inwardly groaned as they shopped to find gifts not just for a birthday but for Valentine's too. And somehow the gifts were important, validating the uniqueness of the day.
I remember my 30th birthday for one detail -- I decided to have a martini. I had sensed the mystique of martinis early in my twenties, but I decided such a celebrated drink required gravitas on the part of the drinker and that perhaps by 30 I would have developed it. As with most things one puts off too long, the moment was lost. Martinis aren't really my drink and I remember that birthday chiefly for the disappointment of finding that out.
But sometimes finding a new limit brings freedom. I remember going along on a family skiing holiday in Canada. Many things about the hotel were charming, particularly the custom of wearing pajamas to breakfast, something all the guests did. Less charming was the frigid wind, icy slopes and my struggle to stay upright in a sport I suddenly realized I loathed. Finally, I had enough. I realized that I had the right not to ski any more, ever again. Henceforth I would bring stacks of Agatha Christies and read all day before the extraordinary stone fireplace. To this day, when anyone talks of skiing I feel positively gleeful that I am now free never, ever, to have to do it again.
I know that skiing, horseback riding and many other sports fall into people's bucket lists -- the hundred or so things they want to do before they die. I have been very fortunate to have avoided those lists, if only because the foreign service and serendipity were far better providers of adventures than any I could conjure. But if there is such a thing as an non-bucket list -- things one tries once (or never) and resolves never to do again -- then I will confess that I have been building one for years. And what better day than a birthday to add a new item, something else never to be done, to the growing list?
And let's face it, birthdays cannot retain their little girl character forever. There is something unbecoming about a grown woman worrying about presents, anyway. These days my husband is too ill to remember such frivolities. Any celebrations will have to be postponed to the weekend. One child is working, one has an evening class, and I have a terrible cold, so the day will pass unnoticed. It's not that I am afraid of counting the years -- 56 this time -- or having the little heart sandwiches. I will be glad to use my day, whenever it comes, as an excuse to bring the family together.
And very quietly I will consign another activity -- mountaineering, perhaps, or learning Russian -- to my non-bucket list.