I turned 40 in January. If I knew what was around the corner I possibly would have thrown a big party but I didn’t and so I didn’t. Instead I had a few smaller-scale celebrations with various groups of family and friends.
One of these took place in early February on the night that Theme Night #25 finished. After the final show of that run I celebrated both milestones with the Theme Night gang in the Hawk’s Well and then further afield in McLynn’s.
But on the night of my actual birthday it was 18-year old trumpeter Tom Flanagan who bought me my first pint as a 40 year-old. We had just finished a gig together and a few of us had a quick pint in the Swagman before heading home.
I bring up Tom firstly because that was a very kind thing for him to do, but secondly because it was supposed to be a big year for him, and indeed for his classmates and friends in terms of milestones.
The Leaving Cert. Goodbyes to teachers and schools. Graduation masses, ceremonies and balls. And then this week getting results and figuring out how they will spend the next few years of their lives. And it’s all been different. Most of it hasn’t happened at all. So how will the fact that they missed celebrating all these milestones affect the class of 2020?
D’you know – I think they’ll be just fine.
Because while milestones can be pleasant when reached, they’re not the reason we do things. We don’t live our lives with the aim of getting to 40, or 60, or indeed 80. I didn’t start the theme nights in the hope that one day we would get to the 25th. And while Tom Flanagan and his buddies missed a few important months in the context of their school education, they won’t forget everything else they learned along the way as a result.
What milestones can be however is a signal to pause, reflect and maybe pat ourselves on the back. Maybe to bring people together to celebrate. They can become moments for us to seize the opportunity to be even better, to dream even bigger and turn up more fully in our day-to-day lives. Things all more important than the milestone itself.
Because it can be easy to believe that once you reach a certain milestone, something magical is going to happen. If I get a gig with X that’s my career sorted. If I get Y points then I’ll get the right course and that’s my life sorted. When I reach Z age I’ll have learned so much that everything will just fall into place for me.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, the only change that’s going to happen for us is the change we’re going to actually create. And we can do that no matter what age we are.
*Column #2 for The Sligo Weekender – published Sept 10 2020.