Since I was 16, I have had a massive, often fancy dress party for my birthday. There have been some excellent themes; movies, nerdy things, people you secretly want to be…and those parties have been responsible for some of the best memories of my life. We’ve beaten up piñatas, played games, had great chats and danced around like idiots. Hence, I keep having fancy dress parties for my birthday, and go all out on the food, the decorations and anything else I can think of to manufacture a magical night.
But a few years ago (a “True American” theme, if you’re interested) something wasn’t quite right. I still had a great time but I got really tired really quickly, and ended up leaving early (it wasn’t a party at my house, just in case that sounded weird). And last year, after weeks of planning and setting up (a theme in which anything owned by the Disney company was fair game; Star Wars, Avengers, Pooh Bear, the lot), the evening went by in a flash and I can’t really remember any of it.
So this year I told myself that I wasn’t going to have a party at all, but then I thought, “But I always have a fancy dress party. It’s my thing, right?” Then I came up with the perfect theme: nautical. I spent weeks making origami paper boats and ordering nets off Amazon and sticking bits of rope to jam jars. Frankly, I outdid myself – and ended up stress-vomiting afterwards. I wanted so badly to recapture those perfect parties, those moments that had defined my (now-distant) teenage years, that this one never had a chance of living up to the hype. Even though I had a lovely time (at the party itself, not so much with the stomach aches and throwing up later on) I kept thinking about the time and effort and stress I’d put in for this and wondering, “Was it really worth it?”
Last week, I wrote about how trying to repeat the same spiritual disciplines leads to a stale and unsatisfying spiritual life, and the same can be said for trying to recreate the past. Have you ever caught up with old friends, and you just talk about old times? You say, “Remember when that guy…” or “Do you still…” and you tell the same jokes over and over? You laugh, but then the conversation dries up and you realise that you’ve got nothing left but the past. That’s the problem with trying to recreate old memories; you never spend any time making new ones. You may go way back with these people, but you go way back and you stay there; you’re never moving forwards.
I recently met up with my best friends from University to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It was awesome. And we wanted to stay overnight and hang around London the next day so we went to a Travelodge in Hatfield, which is where we went to Uni. On the train up there, I had that funny feeling you get when you revisit an old stomping ground; apprehensive and preparing to relive some old memories. The funny thing was, though, that the memories didn’t really come. The train station had been revamped so much that I didn’t recognise it when we arrived. In the drive to the hotel there were all these new buildings and I couldn’t get my bearings. The old Hatfield was gone and the past wasn’t waiting there for me. I couldn’t go back even if I wanted to.
That was a weekend spent with old friends, but the key was that we didn’t do old things. We watched a play we’d never seen before, we went to parts of London we’d never been to together and we talked about our lives. We didn’t rake over the past and try to drum up warm feelings from the dying embers; we chatted about real things that were happening right now. Our friendship wasn’t made up of finished memories; we were making new ones and continuing to build on what we had together so far.
So I guess my point is this: stop living in the past. Stop doing the same things over and over in the hope that you can revive your glory days. There’s nothing wrong with repeating activities if you enjoy them and they’re strengthening your relationships, but if you feel stuck in a rut and you’re just trying to go back to a time when things were easier then that’s not healthy (and, frankly, not possible either). Don’t keep going to the same pub. Don’t keep having the same conversations. Don’t keep telling the same in-jokes until you can’t even remember why they’re funny anymore. Start living today, in this moment, in the life you have now rather than the one you had then. Take the same friends to new places. Make new memories and try new things. It’s natural to miss the old days, but if you’re not careful you’ll end up missing these days too.
And next year, I think I’ll just go out for dinner for my birthday. Although, a jungle theme might be cool…