Birthday Thoughts, Nov. 3, 2008


When H.G. Wells turned 70 in 1936, PEN (Poets, Playwrights Essayists and Novelists) threw a birthday dinner for him.

It was fitting, as Wells himself had been one of the founders of PEN, along with Joseph Conrad and Bernard Shaw -- the latter among the dinner guests. And PEN survives him and the other founders, fighting for the rights and dignity of writers around the world.

Wells told his fellow writers on that long-ago occasion that he felt like a little boy who'd had a lot of fun playing, until his nurse told him: "Now Master Bertie, it's getting late. Time you began to put away your toys."

I'm only 67 today but I'm getting there. Yet, strangely, I feel younger in some ways than I did ten or 20 years ago, when I was a single man and had no great hope of ever being otherwise. Velvet has brought me more joy and more contentment that I could have ever imagined.

I have seen things and read things and experienced things that would never have been part of my life but for her. But even beyond that, thanks to her, I have a normal life. I have a real home, not a ratty apartment; and a real new family, even if it's a stepfamily. Even everyday routines like housework and yardwork, although as tiresome to me as to anyone, somehow take on new meaning.

It won't last forever, of course. But that doesn't seem to matter to me as much as it once did. It is a comfort to me that the world will go on, that people I care about - including my new stepchildren and step-grandchildren -- will go on. I have never understood the appeal of solipsism, the notion that the world is just an illusion, that when you die, it dies. Today, knowing the kind of life that had eluded me before, solipsism strikes me as a truly horrible idea.

It's not as if I'm overjoyed with the state of the world; indeed, it seems we have a load of trouble. Yet the human race has endured troubles since the dawn of time, and I can hope that the same will be true in the future -- if only, to borrow an old British expression, by "muddling through." I think there are still enough decent people in the world to manage that.

It was at a pre-wedding party in 2005 that I came up with a toast -- my first ever, I believe. It wasn't planned, it sprang into my mind quite spontaneously and unexpectedly:

"Be happy for us. Be happy for yourselves. Life is good, the world is good, can you but see it."

About a year later, for "Deer Meadow Shuffle," I wrote a passage which, although I didn't think of it at the time, I later realized could be adapted into another toast, which I leave with you now:

"To our dreams, and to our love, and to the things we fashion from them."

I'll try to pass whatever years remain to me in that spirit. IÕm not putting away my toys. However long or short a time I have from here, I can't complain. I've had a good run.

--Brantley Thompson Elkins