Today, I turned 38 years. That there is a profound statement; a landmark even. The rest of my life begun today. I have not felt this way about a birthday before.
Lately, I have been beset by thoughts of mortality. My mortality. It is normal, somebody will say, given that I just recently lost a parent. I thought about that today; almost 40 years ago, my father was slightly more than 40 when he had me. He died at a point in time when I would nearly be his age at that time. Like a 40-year cycle of sorts.
Maybe it normal to think these thoughts. Morbid thoughts even but that does not take away from the fact I have not felt this little, this insignificant in the wider scheme of things. Like I could just curl up and wither away and the world would not care one single bit; there’s been billions of people before me who’ve reached this milestone and they’ve been forgotten.
So there I was at the Golden Corral with my family, the most important people in my life, celebrating the day. It had started with the usual morning ‘surprise.’ The girls were lined up in front of me as I sat on the brown sofa letting the bustle of a new day rise to the acceptable level as I waited for everyone else to get ready.
I had to act surprised. So they sang Happy Birthday.
I could not tell them it is pointless. I could not start saying I feel nothing at all. I have been reminded of my advance in years every year at this time since I was a baby and it’s grown old. I was not feeling particularly excited about being 38. I have spent the last few months inexplicably believing I am making 39, not 38. When at an office meeting recently, the boss asked how old I am, I blurted out, “38.”
So in two years time, I will be 40. Four-Oh. The big one. Everything else will cease to be important, or at least that’s what those who’ve reached the milestone have said of it. I think I have been looking forward to 40 more than to today’s occasion.
My wife remarked today that the Golden Corral is like that famous restaurant in the middle of Kampala where people go and have their fill with sumptuous buffets. Scratch that; it is probably mainly known by Banyankole in Kampala since all the times I have been there, everyone around me was speaking Runyakitara and so were the waiters and the boss. It is known as Baguma’s.
I am very far from Baguma’s today. I sat in that almost deserted Golden Corral with family but my mind was far away. I have been thinking about my mortality, but I have also dwelt on what I have learned so far in life.
Old people remember things; that’s why they are best placed to run organizations. I might well be headed in that direction as of late I am remembering small items from the past.
I remembered what it felt like to hold my first child in my arms today. I remembered the many walks I helped my wife take to help dilate her at that quiet hospital in Kololo. I remembered sitting in a taxi and biting on my knuckles, heading back to Entebbe to pick the wife two years later when the second baby was coming. I drove back towards the city, stopping at Doctor’s Place in Seguku, where baby number two was delivered.
Today, those two little girls sang Happy Birthday to me. These two girls that I watched as they came into the world and held in my arms before anyone else did.
I have learned that it is pointless to try to turn fate. One just looks ahead and jumps to the next best opportunity. You do not turn fate.
I had a heated debate with a roommate many years ago at Busoga College Mwiri about fate and our will after reading Oedipus and how he tried to run away from his fate, the oracle was clear; he would murder his father and marry his mother. My friend insisted we were stronger than fate and we did not have to be like the mythological Oedipus, that what he did was inexcusable and that he deserved to lose his eyes.
I argued for the other side.
So much water has passed under this bridge. Time has taught me that my friend was right; we can change our destinies. I heard and saw so many oracles in the past that seemed to point to a completely different future. Nothing pointed me to where I am.
For 38 years, my life has been about stepping stones. This belief, this knowledge is the rudder that guides this ship. I step on one stone in the stream and just as I start to slide, I see another in the failing light. I have jumped from stone to stone, some of them very slippery and others firm enough for me to stand tall and look ahead.
When you have been jumping from stone to stone in the stream of life for 38 years, you become something of a pro. You also discard any notions about oracles. I submit, Oedipus was a sick pervert. He had the power to step onto the next stone. He did not have to stay on just the one where he felt safe.