My brother has the art of being coolly and casually profound. With one word from a letter of his, I have been sustained and heartened for weeks.
The traditional greeting for a birthday is, of course, Happy Birthday. But this year, as my birthday approached I began to wonder, what on earth is happy anyway?
Happy seems to be an obsession of our culture, our main aim, and there is a certain expectation that at various milestones in our lives we might take stock of how close we are to that elusive goal. So as my 30th loomed closer, came and went, I naturally questioned it all. What was happy? Did I have it, and if not, how should I get it?
Last year in my birthday week, I found out that I was pregnant after 5 years of trying and tumultuous months of fertility treatment. We were in Venice when we did the test, and spent the rest of the day wandering around in a daze trying to get our heads around the idea that it was positive and a little life was growing inside me. I felt tired and nauseous, and a little wary of believing it was finally true, finally happening. We dared to hope that the dot we’d seen on the screen at the hospital would become a baby with a baby cry, baby skin and tiny baby feet, and we bought some Venetian baby shoes to cement that hope.
Only a few days later, the bleeding started. Over the course of the next month, tests suggested a continuing pregnancy but the bleeding and worsening pain levels did not. Finally, on Mother’s Day, I was rushed in for surgery to remove the baby, which was growing in my Fallopian tube. It all happened so fast and I tried to stay calm, but when I came around from the anesthetic, confused and breathless, the realisation hit me: my precious baby had been cut out of me and all that hope had been in vain.
Recuperating at home, I was surrounded by the new life of Spring. Bloody yellow daffodils everywhere. Lambs and birds’ nests and a whole world coming alive, while I sat on the sofa and answered the phone to some hospital worker who wanted to know if I would like Christian words said over my baby’s remains, which had been burnt to ashes, jumbled up with all the other ‘fetal remains’.
So was I happy, on my birthday, as daffodils sprang up around my house and I looked back on the past year? To be honest, the word made me uncomfortable, and I wrestled with it.
Then, my brother’s birthday letter arrived, a little late, but perfectly timed for a Saturday morning when the nagging anxiety that I might be missing something, might be missing happy, was tugging me around as I padded about in slippers doing chores.
The word in the letter was worthwhile.
That word, spoken over me and over my life, the life I am leading right now, and have led for thirty years – wow.
It dawned on me that yes, of course it is worthwhile. All of it – the days rollerblading around the neighbourhood and climbing trees as a child, the hours playing Lego and reading books, the friendships, the holidays, the learning. The jobs. The meals shared. The conversations, the prayers. The dancing and singing, the walking and travelling. The Springs, the Summers, the Autumns and the Winters. It’s all beautifully worthwhile, and that thought, even when I’m working through the night or feeling my childlessness, that thought makes me feel – well, happy.