There was a moment early yesterday evening when I stopped for a second to look around at the faces of a few close girlfriends gathered in my flat, all beaming at me as I opened their beautiful birthday gifts. I wish I'd captured it on video but the image is still pretty clear in my head. I felt very loved, very appreciated and very encouraged. Not only did they show up and bring gorgeous, thoughtful presents but they cooked the chilli, poured the drinks, did the washing up and adjusted my spectacular (if I do say so myself) party dress. They even reassured me when I found a mark on that spectacular dress just before we left for the party - and believe me this recovering perfectionist needed a lot of reassuring. The other beautiful thing that occurred to me last night about friendship at this stage in our lives is that everyone is so real and natural. It was fine for one of my friends to arrive and lie down on the floor with her feet in the air to ease her aching back, despite never having met the other two girls in the room. And it was perfectly acceptable - and hilarious in fact - that the first drink we all wanted at six o'clock was a cup of tea! So a big thank you here to all my amazing friends - you know who you are.
And thanks to the people who are reading this blog and have encouraged me to carry on writing it. It feels right and it feels like it somehow helped me to challenge my negative body thoughts ahead of my 40th birthday party and gave me the courage to wear that lovely dress. I also sense this blog and the experience of writing it is going to be a big part of my future, in whatever shape or form. I was watching the film Little Women on DVD this evening with a good friend - a fabulous thing to do when recovering from a late night out - and it really resonated with me when Professor Friedrich Bhaer said to Jo March: "You must write from life, from the depths of your soul!" I guess that's why this writing flows better than any I've done in my 15-year journalism career - although not so much tonight after not enough sleep!
Going back to the topic of love, I have to mention my favourite song from last night and one of my favourite songs of all time. It brings back great memories of dancing with a dear friend at university. Fittingly, it's "You've got the love" by Candi Staton and, for those who don't know it, it goes like this: "Sometimes I feel like throwing my hands up in the air. I know I can count on you. Sometimes I feel like saying, 'Lord, I just don't care'. But you've got the love I need to see me through." And it goes on: "Every once in a while I say Lord I can't go on. Every once in a while I get to feeling blue. Every once in a while it seems like I am all alone. But you got the love I need to see me through."
And finally, I was reminded this week that Lent is 46 days, not 40, but the six Sundays are feast days when we can stop abstaining from whatever we've chosen to abstain from. So if you've given up chocolate for Lent and you're reading this late on Sunday evening - now's your chance! However, I've decided not to take the feast days off and to continue to try to abstain from negative thoughts about my body and appearance on the Sundays, which includes today, my birthday. On the one hand, it's been easy today not to think those negative thoughts because I've felt so loved, had such a great party and felt pretty good in my fabulous dress. On the other hand, it hasn't been so easy because I've never liked seeing myself in photos. I've only ever managed to look at what I see as the flaws and those flaws have always been so unacceptable to me. Which reminds me of the time I was sitting in a passport photo booth at Bond Street tube station in London. The machine kept saying, "If you're not happy with this picture, press the green (or was it red?) button, to try again". I must have pressed that button about five or six times until it dawned on me that I was never going to be happy with the picture so I was just going to have to accept it as it was and stop wasting precious minutes of my life sat in a photo booth at Bond Street.
So in the spirit of this blog, I will sign off with a photo that I do like and one I think sums up the evening. Happy birthday to me!