For many, having a birthday in quarantine is not the way they wanted to mark their special day. No cakes, no presents, no fun fare or a nice meal or party with friends and family. To me, I finally had an excuse to spend my birthday the way I spent the last 37 of them. Not that I am against birthdays, far from it, but a lot of factors come into play. The first factor being, me being from a generation of UK Bangladeshis, that grew up at a time when much emphasis wasn’t put on life events such as birthdays. Not many of my Bangladeshi peers can say our parents remembered, let alone made a big deal about our birthdays. Like many, I grew up in confusion watching non Bengalis putting on their party hats and going all out with cakes and balloons. We relied on Hollywood and TV programmes to give us a projection into what a birthday party should look and feel like. Every now and then, we would get invited to that one cousin’s house, whose parents had decided to throw them a party. We will be excited with our best clothes on, whilst listening to parent of the cousin, explaining how their kid forced them to throw it. Pilau and curry would be the main dish of the day and every cake seemed to have balloons printed on it. Apart from the cultural upbringing which shaped my views on birthdays, personally, I’ve never seen a reason to measure myself against the time of the year when you were born, if anything, I feel it’s quite dangerous. The last thing we need more in our lives, is an invisible date to aim all our goals towards and put benchmarks of what we should be achieving. There are far too much societal expectations in relation to age, all geared towards our birthdays. The age where one, should be getting married, have kids, have a career, buy a house, go travelling, and make money, the list is endless. I am a firm believer that growth comes through experience and there is never a right or wrong time to do anything, there is only one timeline you should follow and that is your own. It’s quite simple to see when looking around, that none of us age the same way. If the day you were born had any real significant part to play in our time here in this earth, then everyone born on the same day, will age the same and die the same day as well. We are on different timelines with different goals and different growth.
Being two years shy of 40, many who reach my age start preparing their milestone birthday. However, turning 38 is reaching a significant milestone for me. For a long time it has been a benchmark, not to reach a goal but something quite different. I’ll never know the exact age of my dad, people from his generation came to this country under their assumed date of births, rather than their actual ones. People living in villages in a country like Bangladesh at that time, very rarely kept birth records. But I calculated (quite accurately) it was when he was 38 that his life changed.
I still remember that summer of 1990. My older brother and I, were roughly the same age as my daughter and my son, with similar age gaps. It was the year he had his first heart attack and later his triple heart bypass. Flashbacks of him being rushed to hospital in an ambulance and laying there for months upon months was just the start of his journey to become weakened physical shell.
My Dad never had the best of dietary habits or the best of lifestyle, which was obvious in what part it played for what happened to him. But to me it served as a rude awakening, as the years went on and losing uncles from coronary heart issues, it was quite clear that heart problems run through my DNA and maybe I am destined for the same fate at an early age. This is one of the main reasons behind my constant dedication to fitness. Even in my twenties, I envisioned where I would be in terms of my health when I reach this stage in my life. Thankfully, overall being in your late 30’s is different now than it was 20 years ago. When I was a kid, reaching 30s, especially in an Asian household, meant men with bald patches and pot bellies already retiring themselves to old age, women were not much better. It’s different now, people look and approach life differently across all cultures and lifestyles. In popular culture, it’s hard to distinguish age now then it was decades ago, Brad Pitt, in his 50’s still looks like his prime and getting casted in Blockbusters. Maddona in her 60s is still dancing in concerts.
I was only eight when my Dad had his heart attack. I remember snippets of my childhood, arguing in our council estate, with other children and boasting how my Dad could punch the building and make it crack, because that’s how strong he was. To every little boy, their dad was Superman. After his illness, that was taken away from me. I didn’t forge memories of playing football, cycling or wrestling with him, or something as simple as running in the park with him. We were taught to always be mindful of his physical health.
So, approaching this age, for a long time, the thought where I would be physically was always lingering. Today, I do not look or resemble anything like my dad did back when he was my age. As I play with my nearly 7 year old son and he compares my strength to Thor from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and genuinely entertains the idea of who would win a fight between me and Thor or if my muscles are bigger than Thor’s, my favourite character. I am reminded of the little boy I was, who thought his Dad could punch through the walls of concrete buildings.
Life and death is a delicate balance and tomorrow is never guaranteed for anyone. But that doesn’t mean you can’t live a quality life for however long you are meant to be in your place in this universe, by looking after you health. Today in this state of quarantine, more than anything, I feel blessed for my health. I take pride in looking after my fitness. I am firm believer that good mental health goes hand in hand with good physical health.
Have I achieved everything I want in life? Definitely not, there is more hunger and mileage inside me to go out and experience more of this world, than at any point in my life before, but that’s a drive that will always stay with me. I have faith in the Universe that everyone is where they have to be and in time things you are meant to achieve and experience, will happen. As long as you love the one thing you have control over, your health and your mind.
As we live in times of unprecedented quarantine, now is the best time as any, to be reminded by the world around us. How having your health is the biggest asset and life’s biggest blessing. I am reminded that a birthday doesn’t change anything immediately, I am the same man I was yesterday, today and tomorrow, turning a number won’t change any of that. Growth comes from experience. As Muhammed Ali once said
“The man who sees life in his 40’s, the same way he does in his 20’s, has lost 20 years of his life.”
Be safe, stay healthy.