Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things
Our father Bill celebrated his seventieth birthday last weekend. Family and friends converged at Ellen and Abbott’s house from several states (and states of mind). And Ellen came up with the best party favor ever: she published a volume of Bill’s short stories on her new Lulu-driven Slush Editions line.
Hamlet says sardonically of his mother’s second marriage, “The funeral bak’d meats did coldly furnish forth the wedding table.” Hamlet’s No Thank You Note delivers the fetid whiff of death warmed over that haunts every major observance. Like tummy tucks and Twinkies, birthdays always shrink wrap their opposite. What are birthday candles, if not a tiny light show staged by the grim reaper himself? As Othello says upon approaching Desdemona’s bed, “Put out the light. And then. Put out. The light.”
Milestone birthdays, the ones marked by joke gifts and face peels, flaunt their kinship with funerals with a candor otherwise monopolized by preteens on Facebook. My father certainly knows when to call a spade a spade. In his speech to the assembled crowd of unevenly aging fellow travelers, Bill spoke of senility as the last career in a life of many changes, and he announced that when he finally accepts that final promotion, he hopes to find a way to exit the corner office as quickly as possible.
Although the party itself was a symphony of moods and foods, the best parts of the weekend for me were the satellite events, such as watching my father sign a stack of little red books with my sister by his side.
What, I wondered, if we could have all those intimate edge moments and forgo the grand buffet altogether? But you can’t enjoy the down time without bearing witness to the solemnity, whose great pulsing semantic density has drawn us all together in the first place. After all, seventy is the new fifty. Isn’t it?— Julia Lupton · 2009-06-13