The morning of my thirty-fourth birthday, I woke up almost three hours before sunrise, took a shower, and hopped in the rental car to drive from London to Toronto. I was sure that, by leaving before 6am, I would be able to beat the inevitable traffic heading into the city, and that I would arrive at the office with lots of time to spare.
Clearly, this was the first time I was doing this commute, and had no idea that everyone was thinking the same way; it took over three hours to get into the city, a drive that takes just about two hours on a normal, traffic-free day.
The regular commuters were prepared, and drove with the necessary distractions: their cupholders carrying large travel mugs of coffee, their glove compartments full of snacks of all kinds. (There was one driver who was holding the steering wheel in one hand and eating yogurt with a spoon with the other. It was a remarkable feat of dexterity; I would have been covered in yogurt if I had attempted to do the same.) For the most part, they all had this look of resigned aggravation on their faces—it was as if they knew that the traffic was to be expected, that it could be no other way, but that they still weren’t happy to be sitting in the unmoving morass of cars.
I was not so well prepared, and found my stomach grumbling by the two-hour mark. The temptation to pull over for a cup of roadside coffee was strong, but the realization that I was going to be late kept me on the road, final destination in mind. I would treat myself to a breakfast sandwich once I arrived; it was, after all, my birthday.
The three-hour drive, however, was anything but dreary and aggravating. In fact, it was invigorating, uplifting.
Through my windshield, directly in front of me throughout the entire trip along the 401 westward into the city, the sun was lifting itself above the horizon with majesty. The drive began in darkness, but halfway through, the deep navy blue of the sky had given way to striking streaks of pink and purple, all in motion as the clouds shifted to make way for the glowing, bright, orange sun. From purple and pink the sky shifted to take on amber hues, broken by cloudy bunches of yellow, until finally, into my third hour on the road, the sun shone brightly on a beautiful powder-blue canvas. The sky was clear and sunny the entire rest of the day.
As I watched this symphony of color unfold along the horizon, the car speakers played “The Best of Funk,” a mix a friend had made in my late twenties that still brought me uplift and joy. I had decided to eschew my regular morning commute sounds of podcasts in favor of syncopating bass lines, and I am glad that did: the music was the soundtrack to the vibrant show taking place in front of my windshield, almost as if every kick of the drum brought a new streak of color to the sky.
My three-hour drive into the city, the morning of my thirty-fourth birthday, was not spent in resigned aggravation. In fact, it was the opposite: it was a morning of awe and wonder and an inherent joy in being alive. It was a reminder that the simplest pleasures were often the best of them, and that every morning is a momentous occasion if we decide to look at them that way. I was thirty-four years old, but that was not the reason for celebration: being able to appreciate these small yet momentous wonders, instead, was reason for celebration enough.
My thirty-fourth birthday came in the middle of a week of change. Just days prior, we had moved into our new house in a new city, and we had spent the weekend unpacking. The birthday was the last thing on my mind, more of an after-thought than it already usually is most years.
There is nothing remarkable about thirty-four, as an age. It is not a milestone year, and doesn’t have the cultural cachet of ages like sixteen, thirty, and sixty-five. It is an age that is marked, usually, by acknowledging its existence, and then counting down until thirty-five.
I received kind regards from friends, but for the most part, my thirty-fourth birthday was anticlimactic. (I did enjoy one of the best meals I have ever eaten, that evening with my wife, but I’ll write more about that some other time.) It was an appropriate recognition that a year had passed—and it was perfect. The drive I took on the morning of my thirty-fourth birthday, a drive that is usually so ordinary in many ways for many people, was illuminating and joyous for me, because it reminded me that every day is filled with beauty and wonder and awe.
Thirty-four is an ordinary age, but despite its unremarkableness, it can be as memorable as any other age: it too is filled with beauty and wonder and awe. Every day is a momentous occasion if we let it be, and every year is worthy of celebration.
Thirty-four, for me, like every other birthday, is the marker of a lifetime of adventure and exploration, surrounded by a symphony of color and sound. I can’t wait to see what new joys are on their way in the months to come.