A Message from the Birthday Queen
Today is my birthday. I absolutely love my birthday. For one thing, it's the perfect date numerically. In the U.S. format, it's 7-27-72. (It loses a little of its luster for me in the European format, but I still find all those 7s and 2s satisfying.) I'm also a big believer in the Birthday Queen approach to birthdays.
Because I'm the oldest of three and the only girl, 364 days of each of my formative years were about sharing, playing nice, knowing better, giving in, taking care, and compromising. But on that special (and usually thundery) day near the end of July, I got to be the boss for a day. Picking the dinner, the activity, being fussed over – my birthday was the one day of the year that was completely All About Me.
Carrying this approach into adulthood has been good. I don't get depressed or morose or worry about my age. I have the rest of the year to do that. Instead, I rip the lid off the day and concentrate on sucking down every last drop of Birhtday Goodness. I have a fantastic time dragging Peter (who is the best Birthdayland subject that a queen could ask for) out, usually to do a bizarre agricultural activity. Past birthday activities have included trips to the county fair, visiting a dairy farm, fishing, hiking, horse riding, and a trip to a large cat refuge in the middle of nowhere, Indiana.
The plan for today is to trek out to County Offaly to ride the bog railroad, visit a petting farm, and possible see monastic ruins. It also might involve a film, possibly The Simpsons. I don't know what else a girl could want. (Although I have to admit that I do sort of miss the thunderstorms.)
The other thing I like to do on my birthday is think about what I've learned in the year and what I want to accomplish for next year. I'm still working on the second one, but I think I have the first one sussed. I learned my most important life lesson on the back of a horse on a rain swept beach in Connemarra.
I love riding and started when I was about 7. As a kid, the only thing I ever wanted to do was go fast. But the adult me, with my awareness of accidents and broken bones and head injuries, has lost that need for speed. But I do enjoy a good canter and had filled out the information form honestly.
As the assistant and the two beginners on the ride trotted down the beach, I waited with the lead rider for my chance to have a good canter. The horses were pretty well-mannered and wore what the lead rider called a “neck straps”, which provided an extra handle to steady yourself. (I'd never seen this piece of tack before.) I hadn't had to use the neck strap on the ride down the beach and didn't think I'd need it for the cantering.
Cleggan Beach is probably gorgeous in nice weather, but on this day it was hard to tell where the grey of the ocean stopped and the grey of the sky began. My horse was fidgety, eager to tear down the beach. The lead rider's horse was as hot as I've ever seen a non-thoroughbred. She looked like she could take the whole beach in a single bound like Super Horse.
When the assistant and the beginners were at the far end of the beach, we took off. My only instruction was to stay behind the lead horse. The easy cantering lasted for about three strides. Then we were galloping – fast, with the wind and rain lashing at us. I grabbed onto the neck strap and felt every muscle in my body tighten up. This wasn't feeling very fun at all.
We made it to the other side of the beach and then had another wait. When it was our turn to go again, it was again only a few strides of cantering and then a full-on gallop. This time, I forced myself to relax. I let go of the neck strap, took a deep breath, relaxed, and just went with the motion of the horse. It was the most fun I've ever had on a ride. It didn't feel fast and scary anymore. It just felt right. We had about five or six more races along the beach and I enjoyed each one more than the next.
I realised that the relaxing, the letting go and giving in, was what made the ride so enjoyable. Trying to control every second only made me anxious – it didn't make me safer. In fact, I was better off when I was relaxed. At one point, the horse dipped his head and had a little stumble. Had I been clutching the neck strap, I probably would have tumbled off. Being relaxed allowed me to maintain my balance and just move with the horse.
This is a lesson that is applicable to life as well. I've been making a conscious effort to let go of my concerns and worries. Living in Ireland has helped me with this. I've been able to internalise the Irish-Zen attitude that is encapsulated in one of my favourite phrases: "Ah, sure, it'll be grand." Sometimes, you just have to drop the neck strap and enjoy the ride.