Baby Smith just had his first ever birthday party. Only a family affair, but it took a surprising amount of preparation. We cooked. We cleaned. We went to three different supermarkets in search of the perfect menu. I baked a cake for the first time in, well, ever. I even made a pass the parcel. And the silly thing about all that is, he isn't going to remember any of it. The person who all that effort was aimed at is the one person who won't appreciate it. In that respect, it was a bit like a funeral.
Yes, I did just compare a child's birthday party to a funeral. But bear with me.
Many key events in life are for pretty much everyone's benefit except the person whose name is actually on the programme, as it were. Funerals are the obvious one: even if you believe in an afterlife and think the departed is watching events unfold from a cloud somewhere, showing them their own funeral is just adding insult to injury. Not only are they dead, but they can now see just how miserable everyone is as a result. (Or, worse, how happy ...) With my cynical hat on, I could say weddings aren't much of an improvement; after all, there must be a better way for a couple to celebrate the start of their new life together than by running up several thousand pounds' worth of debt on overpriced food and alcohol for a hundred distant relations and casual acquaintances.* And even birthdays, I have always found to be much more for other people's benefit than my own – because when it's my birthday, I have to be the host, and that means running around with plates of nachos and olives on sticks while everyone else talks about the economy and spills wine on my carpet.
At this point, based on the brilliance of my previous blog posts**, you're probably expecting me to pull some amazingly insightful writing comparison out of the bag. And that, dear friends, is why writing is like a funeral: it's not about you, the author/dead person, but about your readers/mourners ... But I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you, mostly because I'm still exhausted from helping Baby Smith unwrap a billion presents. So instead, I'll just say this.
Yes, our birthdays tend to be all about keeping other people happy.
Yes, our weddings basically consist of our guests enjoying free food and drink while we fret about the bill.
Yes, our funerals will be solely for the benefit of the loved ones we leave behind.
But that's OK. In a world where everything increasingly seems to be all about the individual; where each of us is concerned with our own ambitions and our own frustrations, our personal space and our 'me time'; where personality is much more prized than community ... maybe it's nice that many of our biggest social occasions turn it all on its head. And, after all, for every time we're called upon to play the host, there'll be many more times we get to spill wine on someone else's carpet.
As for Baby Smith, he seemed to enjoy himself. And he would have enjoyed himself just as much with no cake and no presents, only the family who'd come to see him. Perhaps, after all, that's the point of this post.
* Before you pick me up on this one, yes, I know not all weddings are like that. Sometimes the couple actually know all their guests.
** You can stop laughing now.