On the morning of your 36th birthday, you’ll wake up to yet another annoying alarm; to a loud but precise car honk, a wooden door slamming in a distance; to a toddler screaming “happy birthday, daaaadyyy!” or to a very soft whisper, “happy 36th, babe!”
I hope that, if nothing else, that morning will teach you that your life has already begun and there’s no interlude. I hope that you’ll learn to enjoy the life you have and you’ll deeply appreciate your journey!
The mostly-toothless grin of your 4-year-old, holding out a spaghetti-adorned birthday card reading ‘best _ad ever’ will surely melt away any displeasure you may feel from being startled out of sleep. You’ll fight back tears when you realize that the first ‘d in dad’ slipped right off the card and onto the cozy but practical duvet your wife bought from an amazon flash sale.
You’ll remember the first bedspread you shared as a newly-wed but unemployed couple — — a barely-there fabric that you now realize is the reason for your ‘cuddling’ tendencies. You’ll then hug the mini-you that you created right under this duvet and say “thanks, buddy! now give your old man a bear-hug!”, then you’ll lift the 40-pound bundle of joy onto the bed.
You’ll stare, in amazement, at the gorgeous woman leaning against the bedpost and you’ll realize just how great things turned out for you. For a split second your mind may bring up the looming mortgage and insurance premiums, but your smile will only grow wider as a little boy wraps his arms tighter around your neck.
You’ll quickly jump out of bed, grab a pair of trousers, a grey button-down shirt and rush out the door to meet your driver, Henry. As you button up while scampering down the stairs, you won’t help but wonder if this is how you’ll spend the rest of your life — — bolting to meetings that see you rise through the ranks and inch you closer to that ‘dream bachelor pad’, but leave you mentally exhausted and emotionally drained from constantly being surrounded by new faces.
You might think back to the time when with nothing but a college degree, you walked into your first job interview; to the days when you fantasized about the audemars piguet that now sits permanently on your wrist; to all the ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ moves you made as you climbed up the corporate ladder and you’ll smile because you’ll remember just how badly you wanted this…a sense of pride in all your achievements will grant you some peace.
Henry will probably be a nice guy who occasionally grabs you a bagel or coffee and who, with both hands on the steering wheel, will smile at you through the rear-view mirror and cheerfully say ‘happy birthday Mr. Williams’. Secretly glad he remembered your birthday, you’ll lean forward for a brief ‘thanks, Henry’, only to slump back into your seat, to get lost in thought for the next six miles.
With your hands shoved deep into the pockets of an over-sized jacket and your eyes transfixed on the ‘24-hour diner’ neon sign, you’ll make your way through a freezing winter’s dawn. Your mind will tell you ‘go for the hash brown omelet because it’s your birthday…and because you deserve it’ but something else (your gut, perhaps) will tell you ‘you can’t have that! seven more pounds and you’ll have to sign up for a gastric sleeve procedure’.
You’ll climb up the ramp and stand uncomfortably in the doorway, quickly scanning the room for a corner booth or one that allows you to have your back to the other diners: and as you make your way to the counter, you’ll see the sign ‘Today’s Special — — hash brown omelet stuffed with bacon’ — — as if to confirm the existence of a higher power.
You’ll place an order for muesli yogurt and the ‘special’, and join your best friend at a table by the window.
When that door slams you out of slumber, you’ll quickly reach for your watch, at the top of a pile of clothes stacked lazily on the floor. You’ll realize your teenage son just now got home, at 6:00 am, but given the incarceration rate of black males, you’ll just be glad he’s safe. You’ll wonder how much longer you have to wear your heart on your sleeve — — worried about the safety of your family, especially your 12 and 8-year-old daughters. You’ll make a mental note to check for more out-of-state jobs so that you can finally move your wife and kids to a better neighborhood.
With the finals for your night school course closing in, you’ll hope and pray that this will be the last birthday you’ll have to spend on this block.
Four pairs of eyes and a cupcake will be hovering over your head when you wake: a strong hand will still be shaking your shoulder as if to ensure that you are indeed awake. You’ll make out the faces of the men who, just like you, stood at the front line. Your ears will struggle to make out the sounds from their lips, over what has now become a permanent ‘zziiiiiiiinng’ from prolonged exposure to explosions.
Two of these men you’ll have met during your physiotherapy sessions at the state veterans’ home. In their eyes, you’ll see stories of loss, pain and struggle but you’ll also see sincerity and kindness. You’ll know, from that moment, that if these men had not been injured in some way, they’d still be on the battlefield, giving their lives for others.
The morning of your 36th birthday could also begin with you sleeping on a bench in a police cell or getting ready to play golf with friends from college. You may be lying on a 4-star hotel bed or emerging from a manyatta in the Turkana region, where you would have spent six years building wells and performing minor surgeries.
You could be driving to yet another morning workout at the gym or returning from the night club manager job that allows you rub shoulders with famous people.
Maybe you’ll be standing on a 3rd-floor balcony in southern France, sipping freshly brewed coffee as you watch the sun rise, or looking at a train schedule at a concourse just outside of Chongqing Railway Station.
Wherever you’ll be Noah, I know that I’ll be proud of the man that you became.
I hope that from that moment on, you’ll never have to wonder how things could have been because you will have done your very best, 36 years and counting.
Previously Published on Medium