Down Under Day 47: “Happy Birthday Antoine”

I woke early to take a Skype call from my parents and my aunt Zia Mia. To true form, my mom tortured me with the sight of ‘my’ birthday cakes, three miniature cakes that she cut open before my eyes after I got to hear their rendition of Happy Birthday. Even my crazy dog Lewey made an appearance. After that, my working day began. I found that there is a certain, inherent pleasure in the act of cleaning a toilet on your birthday, a feeling that not many people get the chance to experience; it is a moment that won’t soon be forgotten. While cleaning the fridge I found three free beers; today was looking up already. Being the amazing coworkers that they are, the staff wrote “Happy Birthday Antoine” in chalk on the main board in front of the hostel where they normally write travel quotes. With the rest of my day, I biked over to the library and post office to work out some necessary details before my fast approaching departure. With the day not exactly feeling special for a birthday, I needed to do something for myself, so I went bouldering in the park down the halfway along the Esplanade. Getting past all the childish stuff I quickly made my way to a path that suited a challenge. I made my way around the turns, my feet nearing the surface of the ground as gravity beckoned me downwards. Although every muscle in my upper body began to lose its stamina I kept hanging onto that rock, hoping to reach further to find one more grip to hold onto and get me atop that seemingly impenetrable rock. Time and time again I fell. And every time that I did, I dusted myself off, rubbed some more chalk onto my hands, and found my footing once more. This is the moment I tell you that I did in fact complete the route and achieve the goal that I had set for myself but this story does not have that ending. As close as I came, I did not reach my destination and defy the odds. However, the lesson comes in the effort, the willingness try to push yourself to the limits and to see how far you can go. Technically you could say I failed and in truth I did. On the other hand, I put myself out there and gave all that I could. Knowing that beyond all else is enough for me. In a way this moment is a microcosm of a lot of life. So many things in our lives go unachieved and we look back on those moments with regret and disgust at the person we may have been in that moment. I have been there too and I’m sure more shall come but I want to look back at the life that I have lived knowing that those were failures borne from attempts to reach for the things I yearn for most in life rather than opportunities I deemed unattainable or too ‘scary’. Not only am I funny but I can be corny too! Hopefully I can find opportunities to boulder more in the future. Beginning in college and really most of my life, I was always curious about trying new things even if it meant that I would have to venture off by myself. If none of my friends wanted to come play soccer on a Friday night with a bunch of international students or cook at a vegan cooking night with a bunch of hippies, I am more than willing to go off and do it by myself. I have found that those ended up being the most rewarding experiences by far. In a weird way, it feels the most liberating. Back at the hostel, I got my two free beers for being the birthday boy which only added to the haul that I got earlier from the fridge. Tonight, I would be preparing my birthday dinner. I threw four filets of smoked cod and personally seasoned fish into the oven while I worked on my stew, a mixture of pasta sauce, sautéed onions and garlic, bok choy, carrots, Chinese spinach, oats, and a whole lot of spices. While I let that simmer I whipped up a freshly made smoothie composed of mamey sapote and both almonds and skim milk that I had found in the free bin. As this madness was occurring people were burning food and assembling depressingly unsatisfying meals around me. I joked with an Italian guy who was cooking some instant ramen noodles that all of Italy is crying as the pot of fake noodles boils. You may be asking yourself who the hell is going to eat all that and as an efficient backpacker I will tell you that this budgeted meal can last me for days. The fish was seasoned to perfection and the stew was a joyous bounty of flavors and aromas that awed and surprised the tastebuds and onlookers alike. The smoothie was right down delicious; so simple, so fresh. Even on a budget, I make it happen. The rest of the day ended with me drinking a few beers and sharing a couple with friends that I had met before. It wasn’t the typical birthday kind of day but an awesome one at that.

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