Birthday.

Can I tell you a secret?

_MG_1656

Of all the things that make me me – outwardly – I like the lines around my eyes most of all. When they first appeared during my teenage years, there one day where they had not been before, I hated them. Inwardly despaired.

Wrinkles already?

But I’m so young!

But as the years passed and these little lines etched themselves onto my face, carving themselves a home in the fragile place beneath my eyes, I realised they were not wrinkles at all, but…laughter lines. Experience made visible, my humanity laid bare for all to see. A road map of the past, and a timeline of a life lived well – a life well-lived enough to leave its mark.

Now, laughter lines are the first things I note when I meet a person. I sneak illicit glances at passengers on the tube, wondering how they got those lines around their eyes – was that one there, just below the eyelash on the left, perhaps their first kiss? And what of the one, right there, on the side — a daughter’s first word? A son’s first day of school? Or simply everyday happinesses accumulating – the repeated rituals of a life contented, which might possibly be the best sort of laughter line of them all?

When I look in the mirror – and I do not look often, not with my glasses on, so the broad image I maintain of myself is one five years younger than I actually am and far more blurred around the edges – my laughter lines remind me of my happiest moments. And when I think – really think – about how I got them, I begin to smile, remembering my dreamy hours beside the Danube, the endless sunset bike rides, the people I am blessed enough to love, the hours so blissfully contented time grinds to a halt. Birthdays, adventures, romances, and my twenty-three years of happy moments.

All that – a lifetime – distilled into those little creases hugging the skin beneath my eyes.

I do not intend to suggest that this life, anyone’s life, is all raindrops and roses, and whiskers on kittens: I know my furrowed brow, the entrenched frowns sitting right between the laughter lines of those travellers I love to watch on the tube, attest to that. Life is as pregnant with loss as it is with a potential for great and lasting contentment; I truly admire anyone imprudent enough to think otherwise.

And yet.

Life is also truly wonderful.

Full of wonder – and the laughter lines, mine and yours and all of ours, attest to that.

I am not all that sad to see twenty-two go, except for the fact that I will no longer be able to blast Taylor Swift’s ‘22’ from my radio thinking about how much I can relate to Ms. Swift’s inspired lyrics. (Because, you know, I do that all the time…) I have never been one to lament the process of growing older, and I am rather partial to a new beginning. I do, however, find it most peculiar how one’s perception of age shifts as one traverses the years. 23 sounded impossibly adult to my teenage self, but now that I have arrived here – on platform 23 – it seems so very, entirely, youthful. My entire grown-up life ahead of me, should I be so lucky.

The other day a young girl, not more than twelve, told me that she collected stamps and asked if I, perhaps, collected anything too?

I said, postcards and books.

And, yes, laughter lines.

Happy moments.

P.S. Will you forgive me the goofy photograph? It’s my birthday after all… I plan to brandish cupcakes about the office and gain a laughter line or two. Hope your 18th February is just as enjoyable!