The day I turned 60

In a recent interview I said that turning 60 is the same as turning 35 or 47: a birthday cake, blowing out candles, and so on. But it’s not quite the same, and I would like to share with my readers how I decided to commemorate that date.

I normally celebrate my birthday on the 19th of March, the feast day of my patron saint, Joseph. One day in February this year, I was reading my blog, looking at my readers’ souls, and was seized by an impulse: why not invite 10 people to my birthday? I wrote the message and said that the first ten to write me would be welcome. It so happens that on the next day the first ten answers came from the most varied places on the planet: Brazil, Japan, England, Venezuela, Qatar and so on. The party would be at Puente La Reina, on the Way to Santiago – in other words, far from airports or normal means of transportation. On the other hand, I wasn’t certain that the readers had quite understood the message: I was inviting them to my party, but wasn’t paying for their travel expenses.

I sent an e-mail explaining the situation. All ten said they had understood perfectly well. I felt an immense responsibility, but kept my word, and I think that they all had a good time and enjoyed a very special evening – at least I know that I did! They all still communicate with one another.

Time passed, and soon it was the eve of my birthday. My plan was to do what I always do, and that’s what happened. At 23:15 on the 23rd of August I went to Lourdes so that at exactly 00:05 of the 24th, the moment I was born, I could be at the grotto of Our Lady to thank her for my life up to that moment and ask her to protect me from that moment on. It was a very powerful experience, but while I was driving back to St. Martin (where I have a small mill to spend the summer) I felt extremely lonely. I said so to my wife. “But you’re the one who chose it to be so!” she replied. Yes, I had indeed made that choice, but now I began to feel bothered. We were both alone in this immense planet.

I turned on my mobile phone. It rang immediately – it was Monica, my agent and friend. When I arrived home there were other messages waiting for me. I went to bed happy, and the next day I saw that there was absolutely no reason for me to feel the oppression of the night before. Flowers and presents began to arrive at the house. Communities of people over the Internet had done some extraordinary things using images and texts of mine. In most cases, this had all been arranged by people I had never seen in my life – one exception being Márcia Nascimento, who did some magical work and it gives me pleasure to say that I am a writer with a fan-club – and she is world president!

At that moment I understood two very important things. The first is that no matter how famous you may be, you will always have the feeling that you are alone. The other is that no matter how unknown you may be, you will always be surrounded by friends, even if you have never seen their faces. Even when I was unknown, there was always a hand held out to me when I needed it.

So I let Kahlil Gibran – with his unique mastery – describe this sentiment (which I have adapted because of the size of the column):

“Your friend is the field where you sow with love and harvest with gratitude. He is your home, he is your table”.

“Even when he is silent, two hearts continue to talk”.

“When you have to leave him, don’t suffer, for you will see the importance of the friendship all the better because of this absence, just as a mountain climber sees the landscape around him better when he is far from the plains”.

“May you be able to share with your friend all that is good”.

“Let him know and share not only your moments of joy but also your moments of sorrow”.

“And know that a friend is not by your side to help you kill the time, but rather to help you enjoy life in all its fullness”.

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