Approximately twelve years ago (not to the day), I was celebrating my birthday with a family dinner at my parents’ house. It was a delicious dinner and my whole immediate family was there. It wasn’t a milestone birthday or anything, but it was a particularly memorable and happy birthday
Life was really good. After a period of unemployment, I had recently started a job in the field I work in today and it felt like perfect fit. I loved my job and my industry. My salary was enough to cover expenses and discretionary spending (it helped that I was living at my parents’ home at the time, but I was planning to move to my own place, and I could afford it). I felt rich. My family was all here, happy and healthy. The weather was perfect and the sky was clear. I remember at one point looking up at the sky that night, and feeling this sense of perfect happiness and contentment. Life was just so blissfully wonderful at that moment. There was no reason to feel like it wouldn’t continue to keep getting better.
A few days later, it was my Jewish Calendar birthday. I had only just learned the date of my Jewish Calendar birthday and the custom of giving blessings to others on one’s Jewish Calendar birthday (it is considered an auspicious time to give blessings) the year before, and I was pretty into it. I had given blessings to everyone in the house who was awake before I left for work that morning; it felt good. My good mood carried into the work day. Also, I really loved my job. I was still on the Birthday Season High feeling.
Sibling #1 called me that afternoon, sounding very upset. I racked my brain to figure it out. I had called Sibling #1 to give them their birthday blessing earlier, because Sibling #1 was asleep before I left for work, so it probably wasn’t jealousy or something. I had planned to buy Sibling #1 an item from a store nearby work during lunch break and it turned out to be out of stock. That must be it, I thought. Sibling #1 must be upset about the item. I was about to reassure Sibling #1 that I’d be willing to try again another day to get the item when Sibling #1 spoke.
“Grandpa died,” said Sibling #1.
I was stunned. Despite his age, it was completely unexpected news. My grandfather didn’t have the healthiest lifestyle, but he was active, happy, making plans. He literally had tickets for plans with my grandmother for the following week. No one saw this coming.
The reason I’m thinking of this memory was unrelated to the immediate aftermath of my grandfather’s death, although there are certainly interesting stories to tell on that front. It’s more that the vivid memory of perfect happiness and trust in the future that I felt that night of my birthday dinner feels crystallized to me.
Don’t get the wrong idea: I have felt moments of perfect sheer bliss since. Many moments that were even more awesome. Life did get better for me in many ways. I’ve had more than my fair share of blessings and good things in life. And it would be a while before I morphed into the awful depressed pessimist that I am today.
But I don’t recall another time, at least not in as vivid detail, when I felt that kind of confidence in the future as I did the night of my birthday that year. That realization that the future would not necessarily continue to be good, that was a turning point of sorts.