Much as I loved the surprise parties thrown for my 40th and 50th birthdays I had my family under strict orders that I didn't want big party for my 60th.
It wasn't that I wanted to hide the fact that I was 60. Fr Martin Magill and I have heralded our landmark birthdays for a month, trying to raise money for Embrace NI.
No, I have become more and more introverted through my 50s. I am not sure what to do with crowds pointing at me. Fitzroy singing “Happy Birthday’ before the service was lovely but my heart and brain go mush and I cannot fully appreciate the sentiment!
I am happier at a good meal with a smaller number rather than short greetings with a couple of hundred.
So it was Holohans Pantry my very favourite restaurant, owned and run by good friends. We even had Eli and Bella as waiter and waitress. The food was amazing. I am a Seafood Boxty fanatic so joined by our good friends David and Rachel Quinney Mee I was in my happy place. I am always so relaxed in the Pantry.
Not that I got away without a surprise. Oh no! Dandering out at the end of the Fitzroy service someone mentioned an Ice Cream Van and I realised that they have done me again. Surprise!
Yet, a surprise that included the entire congregation, at least the 60% back after Covid, was a perfect way to celebrate. To see the children and young people enjoy a big 99 or a double one with lime sauce was a birthday thrill. Even a more mature member admitted to racing to get in line before the kids.
It was a real carnival and of course with an ice cream van and children it was not about me. I loved it.
The whole day had started on BBC Radio Ulster. Fr Martin and I were rather honoured to have our landmark birthday recognised on Sunday Sequence and the lovely Audrey Carville reflecting on our lives.
It was good to give testimony to what has been a 10:10 ‘life in all its fulness’ and confessing no regrets but that at times I had hurt others. It was good to declare that we weren’t switching off and were getting excited about the future, particularly the 10th Anniversary of The 4 Corners Festival next February.
It was good to give a last plug to our Big 60th Birthday Fundraiser. To realise that we will have raised over £7000 for Embrace NI and the work that they do with refugees and migrants is the best present ever. Thank you so much to everyone who has contributed so generously!
An hour after that interview I was standing in Fitzroy. It is my piece of pitch. As Kevin De Bruyne has that midfield space where he can play his genius, passing a football into the path of a team mate, so I have my lectern at the front of Fitzroy.
For twelve years that has been my space. In grief, in illness and in joy that little piece of real estate has been the place where I have found my deepest gladness, my reason to be on this planet.
To be there on 10:10. on the day of my 60th birthday, was a marvellous lining up of the calendar. To share the first communion in 18 months with my congregation was going to be special anyway but even more on this particular day.
“You know who you are with bread and wine in your hand. You are a somebody.” A twist on TV’s Tales of the Unexpected. Who we are. And then… to close… Singing…
And all my life You have been faithful (oh)
And all my life You have been so, so good
With every breath that I am able
Oh, I will sing of the goodness of God (yeah)
As we sang I felt a perfect moment. Me and God… aligned. I am thankful, so thankful for reaching 60. For having Janice beside me, throwing surprises. For daughters ploughing their deepest gladness. For an amazingly gifted and generous congregation that allows me to be me. For a wider society that invites me to share with it whether on radio, in newspaper or occasionally TV (Martin and I will be talking about a favourite book in BBC’s Book Week… coming up soon!).
Late evening, with a wee glass, Janice and a TV thriller. In the quiet, looking back. A most wonderful birthday.
60 years. What a 10:10 life. As Van once said, “It’s too late to stop now…” I am kind of glad it is over. The rest of my life starts here! Let’s go!