I was more than half way into my birthday celebration week, and here I was again washing dishes in the night, after having cooked dinner, because the rest of my family had mysteriously vanished once dinner was consumed. My grand plans for having my family cook, and for me to have my evenings free to catch up with my sisters on Skype, play games with my family, read, and journal were rapidly evaporating. The week was almost over, and this was not going the way I planned. Effortlessly I slipped into cranky mummy/wife mode, and loudly proclaimed, as I washed the dinner dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, that this was not my plan for celebrating my birthday week, and, that I did not appreciate my family ignoring my explicit wishes for how I had wanted to spend the week. The children slunk off quietly, and my husband’s attempt to give me a “hush, never mind” hug was met with a withering look from me. When the dishes were done, I said goodnight and stalked off to bed in righteous indignation.
I woke up early the next morning, and having had a good night’s sleep, felt less annoyed than when I went to bed. I came downstairs to the peace and quiet of the dining room, made a cup of tea, and in the company of the softly humming fridge, I began writing in my journal. By the time I started hearing stirrings of life from my family upstairs, I had regained some of my composure. After getting my thoughts on paper, it was clear to me that I had too many blessings to confine my birthday celebration to a mere week. So I came to the conclusion that instead of getting stressed out trying to cram all my planned activities into one birthday week, I would just relax and have a birthday “rest of the month”. My mood improved considerably after that decision was made and I felt ready to start the day.
A few minutes later, my younger daughter, Darshini crept downstairs warily, clearly trying to gauge her mother’s mood. With my new and improved outlook on life, I was able to greet her with a hug and smile. I offered to make her a cup of tea, and then pancakes for breakfast. Normally, when school is on holiday, if she comes down after I have had my tea, Darshini has to make her own tea. So it was a reasonably big deal for me to offer to make her tea. Her eyebrows went up, and the irresistible dimples appeared as she grinned and said “ Oh! You are in a good mood this morning. You are in a very good mood!!”
When my older daughter, Rajini, and my husband made their appearance downstairs, they too were clearly relieved to see the improvement in my mood from the previous night. There were smiles and hugs all around.
I set about the task of preparing pancakes, and as often happens when I start cooking, I began to reflect on life, the universe and everything else. I thought about how my heart filled with joy at the sight of my children’s smiles, and how good it felt to accept my husband’s warm hug in the spirit of love that it was offered. I marvelled at how a simple gesture of love, like making pancakes for my children could bring such contentment and happiness not just to the giver but the receivers as well.
As I broke eggs, and measured out flour, my mind went back to a book I had recently read by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled The Miracle of Mindfulness . He ended the first half of his book with the retelling of a short story by Tolstoy about an emperor’s journey to find the answers to three questions that would ensure the emperor’s success as a ruler. The three questions he asked were:
1. What is the best time to do each thing?
2. Who are the most important people to work with?
3.What is the most important thing to do at all times?
The emperor’s search for answers took him to a hermit, and ultimately his questions were answered as follows:
1. The best time is right now
2. The most important person is the one right in front of you
3. The most important thing to do is what you can to make the person in front of you happy.
As I poured the first spoonful of pancake batter onto the pan, I realised that the best time to celebrate my birthday was right now. The best people to celebrate with were my daughters and husband, and the best way to celebrate was by making pancakes for breakfast, with a smile on my face and a heart full of love. The realization and affirmation that being in the present is the way to contentment and peace was the best birthday gift I received. The month of December, and my 44th year is over, but this gift of mindfulness is mine, to be used every minute for the rest of my journey on this earth.
(This was written in December 2014, when I thought I could fit my birthday celebrations into one week…age has brought some wisdom)