With the ubiquitousness of social media, it’s now almost impossible to keep anything to yourself! The tentacles of Facebook and Twitter reach into every crevice of our psyche and overturn every metaphorical stone we seek to hide something under.
Sometimes reputations are destroyed by anonymous commentators who operate with malignant intent and no accountability. Often because of minor indiscretions gleefully seized upon by people of ill-will, ordinary decent human beings have lost their jobs or been forced to resign. Some have been hounded to the point that they have resorted to the ultimate escape methodology – suicide.
And this week I know how it feels to be betrayed by social media.
You see, Tuesday 12 January was my birthday. At my age, whilst every birthday carries greater significance (whew I made it through another twelve months) it is not something I am too eager to share. What’s more I had been interstate visiting my daughter and had caught some sort of a “wog”. (Is it politically correct to say that? Should I perhaps have said I was smitten by the Flu? Or perhaps issued a triggerwarning?) No matter, whatever description of the ailment, I was feeling lowly and not in the mood for frivolity.
This year I reached the biblical allotment of three score years and ten. (I suspect it was a Freudian slip when I noticed at my first attempt I had written “three sore years and ten” but perhaps not. It has been more like at least thirty sore years.)
Anyhow, aging is not a particularly brilliant achievement. If you hang around long enough, it can happen to anyone! Johnathan Swift the English satirist and essayist who knew a thing or two about life is purported to have said, “Every man desires to live long, but no man desires to be old!” In the end the only thing to celebrate is acknowledgement that you are still here! I suppose in that regard a case could be made for the benefit of birthdays – the more you have, the longer you live. George Burns, the American comedian, who lived to be a hundred years old, famously said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!” (Mind you, this was the same George Burns who when asked what he would like for his eighty-seventh birthday, replied, “A paternity suit!”)
Well my birthday ambitions were much less modest. Instructions to family were “don’t make a fuss”. I said to my wife, “Nothing dramatic, now! The kids are coming over in the afternoon. Why don’t just you and I then go to the local Thai restaurant for dinner.” She agreed to the plan, even though Thai is not her favourite. Whatever happened she had been scheduled for some minor surgery early in the day and I didn’t want her to worry about preparing dinner.
But then the e-mails and the phone calls started flooding in as well as messages from Facebook and Linked-In. (I use Facebook myself so infrequently that receiving considerable traffic was a huge surprise!) All of a sudden friends and relatives were sending me their good wishes. My cover had been blown. What’s more I was deprived of my self-obsessed, self-indulgent sulk. How dare you all distract me from my self-imposed suffering! I told you this social media stuff is a gross intrusion!
I tried to stay gruff and grumpy as was my right on my seventieth birthday, but it was hard to pull off. All these people that I love and admire began sending me birthday wishes. I started off harrumphing and gnashing my teeth and resiling against the fact that they were taking away my right to grumpiness and suffering.
But against my ungracious wishes, love prevailed. I sat in front of my computer in complete indulgence. Wasn’t it nice that she had remembered me? How self-affirming were his comments. Oh, I’d almost forgotten that experience. Wasn’t that a marvellous time we had shared.
Here was I now aching and coughing and harrumphing, but with a spirit more at ease. I was reminded that I have lived such a wonderful life. The little bit I have contributed to people in helping them be competent human beings has been repaid manifold.
Well of course then the kids arrived. I don’t say that in any derogatory way. How marvellous are my children and my grandchildren and they fill me with joy! (I don’t often take up this theme because I understand it is just my genes asserting themselves and it bores me to tears when you indulge yourself similarly. I remember the tea room discussions when I was working. The brand new parents would come to work gushing about some new achievement by their obviously super-talented and very special child. The older folk would just roll their eyes!)
My day was further enhanced when a bottle of 20 year old Penfold’s Grandfather Port (most appropriately named) was produced. And almost concurrently my beautiful daughter in Victoria rang. I was starting to feel decidedly better.
Finally the visitors departed and we dressed and made our way to the Thai restaurant only to find it was closed! Never mind – it was only five minutes’ drive to a Chinese restaurant and what’s more my wife prefers Chinese to Thai. But, oh no! It was closed too. Whatever happened to the enterprise of our Asian population? Had they begun to get the British disease?
Well there was nothing for it but to retire to the local pub. I must confess I had lost my appetite by then. I ordered a pork cutlet and even though it was nicely cooked with a flavoursome sauce and some succulent vegetables I could but manage a few mouthfuls.
Then back home where the first one day cricket match against India was still being played out. How good was this – one of my old favourites, George Bailey, was batting in tandem with the precocious talent of Steve Smith. Their performance was so good I’d soon forgotten my ailments. What’s more I remembered that my older brother had thoughtfully provided a bottle of my favourite single malt scotch whiskey, Dalwhinnie, with which to celebrate my birthday. So I had a wee dram (alright, to be honest I had two) and the world seemed a better place again somehow.
So, all in all, in case you young folk are wondering, it’s not so bad being seventy!
My only regret is that I have now spent my three score years and ten on this planet and yet I still seem to know so little! But I do know, and I hate to admit it, that through the agency of social media I was on Tuesday connected to a lot of people that were important to me. I might just have to close down my Facebook page next year if I am determined to suffer my birthday by myself.