I turned fifty this week, and tomorrow is my party.
I hadn’t been going to have a party. I’m in the middle of a divorce, and I wasn’t going to throw a party for myself – how pathetic would that be? Nor did I want anyone else to throw a party for me. Although I know this is grossly unfair to my exceptional group of loving friends, the reason I didn’t want anyone else to throw a party for me is because I felt they would be doing so only because they felt sorry for me. And, honestly, me feeling sorry for me is more than enough.
Despite the fact that I’m an actress and I live in LA-la land, I don’t really care about the age 50. What I care about are the circumstances in which I am turning this age. Oh crap. I’m a single mum, getting divorced, all my family of origin live in the UK a million miles away, and now I’m going to have to pull myself up by my bootstraps and start ALL OVER AGAIN. And so on, and so on. Blergh.
Then last Thursday night, my daughter (12) suddenly burst into tears. “But Mummy, I wanted to give you a party and you wouldn’t let me! You did everything right for Daddy, and now I don’t want everything to be wrong for you!” I consoled her that I didn’t want a party… and then the floodgates opened.
It was true, I had given the children’s father a magnificent (and surprise) birthday party. For months beforehand I took care of a friend’s two young children along with my own to earn the money to pay for it so it would truly be my gift and not an added stress on the housekeeping. I asked all his family to fly in from various parts of the States. I sent him out with our then 1 and 3 year olds for the day with his family, then called in my super-fantastic team of 5 friends to set the whole thing up. We worked the whole day in 104 degree heat. I wanted Babette’s Feast, and I got it. 54 of his friends to a sit down dinner in our backyard, one loooong table, sparkly lights and candles, speeches, toasts, joy and a memory book. It was a glorious night and I was enormously happy to do it for him.
Now suddenly, crying with my daughter, I realized how sad I was not to be officially celebrating mine. Not in the sense of everyone celebrating me, but in me gathering beloved friends together to mark this important milestone in my life.
Why celebrate? For a start, I’m still here! I have come through three events where I could easily (and should easily) have died. I’ve lived on two different continents and travelled to an amazing number of countries all over the world. I founded a charity straight out of college, and have since been a seminarian, a radio host, a fashion manager, a dress designer, a photographer, a bible teacher, a preacher, an artist, an editor, an actress and a writer. Not to mention my most fulfilling role of mum.
I married the love of my life and was fully committed to spending the rest of my life with him. From that union, I produced (with help) two extraordinary human beings. And though the marriage died, I would do it again a hundred times just to have them exist and be the people that they are.
An interesting thing happened when I cried last Thursday night. I named my grief. And in so doing, I was able to frame it. To look at it and go, “Ohh! OK, this is grief. Deep, abiding, sorrow-laden grief. That’s what this is. It’s not some vague amorphous mass which can consume me. I can see it now and this is what it is.” And in weeping, I let a lot of the pressure out.
The following morning, all my anxiety about my birthday itself (would I spend the whole day in tears? The children would be devastated etc) had lifted. And the children asked if they could throw me a birthday party. How utterly brilliant. Of course I said yes. It would be a celebration of them and of me. And they are so completely thrilled to be giving it to me. Our house has been buzzing all week.
So the lesson I came to is this. Name what weighs on you. Name it, and frame it. And then go ahead anyway. Celebrate anyway. Because life is worth celebrating no matter what the circumstances. We generally can’t see beyond the trees anyway, but the trees are right in front of us and the sun is shining through them.
No circumstances should be allowed to crush the exceptional gift of life itself.
Let the sun shine.