We celebrated the twenty-first birthday of a student in our special-education class and though he had little idea what was going on except more noise and fuss than usual, he enjoyed himself in a manly fashion. After lunch his mother brought cupcakes, apple juice and noisemakers, and I fit three of the latter in my mouth at once and blew a satisfyingly flatulent sound which made him laugh. His mother lit a candle shaped like a “21” and he almost burned his finger but we sang “Happy Birthday” and cheered and I remembered my twenty-first.
Rather, I remember not remembering most of it. I got off work at five o’clock, visited the liquor store where I was disappointed because they didn’t ask to check my newly legitimate ID, and the rest is a vacuum. Legally, I was no longer a child though I remained one for another seven or eight years, when adulthood belatedly began. I’m reading Lord David Cecil’s Max: A Biography (1965) and came upon this passage about the enviably happy Max Beerbohm:
“Along with his prolonged childhood Max kept the child’s confidence in the possibility of happiness. Unlike so many sensitive artists, he suffered no premature disillusionment, was not brought up against the brutality and ugliness of life before he was old enough to stand it. In consequence, he did not suffer from any of those inner wounds and hidden resentments that lead people unhappy in childhood to set up later as outsiders and rebels. Thirteen years of happiness had given him a basic faith in life which was to be like a sort of spiritual bank balance on which he could always draw for reassurance when things went wrong.”
My path was different but eventually almost as confident and self-reliant as Beerbohm’s, at least as described by Cecil. One of Beerbohm’s attractions as a writer is his good-natured equanimity, his sunniness and bonhomie, qualities I don’t always possess but always admire in others. After reading Monday’s post a rabbi among my readers wrote:
“Ah, you have touched on a deep enthusiasm here. So besotted am I with Max that the also incomparable Joseph Epstein has done me the honor, when breaking up part of his library, of dispensing a bit of old Max to me (a book of his illustrations.)
“`A Clergyman’ -- what a great essay. His really was a rare spirit; a steady state one, writing at 25 (in the theater book) as he did in And Even Now which is my favorite of his books.
“I am not a collector. I am a reader, and happy to give a book away if I know I'll never read it again. But the one extravagance in my reading life was paying 1200 for a signed set of Beerbohm over a decade ago.”
Another sunny spirit, one able to appreciate even a flatulent noisemaker like me.