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My 40th birthday speech

Remarks on the occasion of my 40th birthday

4 August 2010

An objective bystander could be forgiven for looking at a man’s life after four decades, and see no job, no home, no savings of which to speak, a long-distance relationship and an unnecessary car and judge that man’s life an unmitigated disaster.

But…no.  My life is a mitigated disaster — and here are some mitigating factors.

My first two decades were rather good, with the exception of my nightmarish exchange year in Japan at the age of 17.

My parents are first-class, spectacular in fact. My brothers are top-notch as siblings go. My health is excellent, a near miracle when you consider the battering it endured at the hands of Carlton Draught and Winfield Blue over far too many years.

In addition, the world —  as it has evolved in my lifetime — militates against what would otherwise be correctly regarded as a catastrophic and miserable excuse for a life.  Technology, especially the revolutionary emergence of the Internet, has made the day to day grind less soul-destroying than it must have been for jobless, homeless, broke and lonely 40 year olds of past generations.  So I am grateful for that.

I am grateful, too, for movies, books,  plane journeys, hotel rooms, the essays of George Orwell, Christopher Hitchens, Modern Family, Oscar, Macy, Lily, James, coffee, US politics, yogurt, Ricky Gervais, Eddie Izzard, David Gray, Diet Coke, Michael Lau, the well-formed sentence and the All Blacks.  I still persist with the old-fashioned belief that, while the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends towards justice.

These are the shafts of light that pierce the gloom.  Did I mention shafts?

The brilliant New York comedian Louis CK says that every year after a man reaches 40 is exponentially worse than the previous one.

But Louis CK also said that the two-pronged strategy  to fix the BP oil spill was to (a) fix the BP oil spill and (b) kick Sarah Palin in the vagina, except that he didn’t say vagina.

So perhaps I shouldn’t read too much into his negative theories about aging.

In fact, there are some causes for optimism about my future.

Most importantly, I am childless, so imagine the disappointments, stress and expense I will evade as a result. Yes, sure, I will miss great joy and countless emotional high-points but that causes me about as much grief as all those Booker and Nobel Prizes I have not and will not win.

Another reason not to surrender to complete despair is that I am slowly getting better at dodging the brickbats life hurls at me. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that I will find more contentment and experience less turmoil than in the past. I could be wrong about this, but there’s always the All Blacks…

Finally, I have a small number of close friends, well represented here, who make life more than simply a struggle. Kind, good, patient, enduring friends. You are each of great importance to me, for your own reasons.

It’s anyone’s guess where the next month will take me, let alone the next year or 40 years.  New York perhaps, at least I hope. Perhaps Wellington. Melbourne? At a pinch. Somewhere else entirely? Not out of the question. I am at another fork in the road, diverging in a wood as imagined by Robert Frost but not merely in two directions.

It is another Frost poem that brings this indulgent tirade to an end. In Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, the horseman of the poem  lingers awhile at the blackest point  of the forest:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep

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