They say after every seven years of life, there is a shift. Some might say it is far greater than a shift, it is a transformation. After seven years, every cell of one’s skin has been shed, regenerated, and a new person is born. Seven is the mystical number linked to the idea of completion and perfection in some religions. And it goes further; there are seven days of creation, seven sacraments, seven wonders of the world, seven deadly sins, seven virtues, the seven seas, seven days of the week, seven colours of the spectrum, seven chakras – you’ll think of more.
At this point in my life, I have notched up seven chapters, each made up from equal parcels of seven years. My contemporaries say that their seven years pass more quickly with age, but that is not the case with me. To me, the seven-year parcels feel irregular in length. My years dance, the tempo adjusts from year to year. Quick, quick, slow; quick, quick, slow. Is that a Viennese waltz or a foxtrot? And the tone and mood of the years are different; some years are composed in D major, others in B minor. In short, each set of seven years has a distinct feel to it, a master narrative, let me show you.
0-7: The Innocent Years: “Give me a child until he is seven, I will show you the man,” said the Jesuits. I am birthed, cradled, cared for, then quickly cracked open and taught some of the tricker life lessons. Tamed, you might call it. I think we all end this chapter with some innocence peeled away, still full of play and energy, but cautious and attentive. It was the seventies, and my memories of these years are all in black and white.
8-14: The Awakening Years: I learn and learn, drink it all in, music and dancing and running and gymnastics and reading and writing and speaking in different languages. I’m taken on trips to new places to discover that life extends – albeit only a little – beyond the small town where I live. It is the eighties: I knit myself legwarmers because I love Coco on Kids from Fame.
15-21: The Watchful Years: I’m a young adult, I go to university, now I’m in Paris for a year, now I’m back in Belfast, back at university. How is everyone else navigating this? Where are they going? How come they all seem to know what they want? In Belfast, everyone watches everyone else, wary as the bombs go off and another bar is sprayed with bullets. “Who are you and where do you come from?” It’s the nineties, discombobulating. Keep your head down. There is no sign of peace.
22-28: The Wandering Years: I have no responsibilities, no money, no job, no ambition. I want for little, and small things make me happy: the loan of my parents’ car for the weekend, ten pounds for petrol, and another ten for two nights out. That’s all it takes. I jump from job to job, no plan, it’s a means to an end. I teeter on the edge of the old millennium and wonder what change a new century will bring. It’s almost Y2K and everyone’s singing Robbie Williams.
29-35: The Profligate Years: I’m not rich, but I feel as though I am, I live as if I am. I’ve found myself in Dublin in the boom years: hot yoga and hot whiskeys in Hogan’s after work; weekend dashes to windswept Kerry beaches; Saturday shopping followed by cocktails in the Shelbourne. I travel and spend. New Year in Barbados, Hallowe’en in New York, Spring in Madrid. I drink and eat, I laugh and work, and I don’t sleep much. It’s the naughty noughties, and when tomorrow comes we can do it all again.
36-42: The Happy Years: I have worked it out of my system, worked it out in my head: it’s all about love. And I found it on a wet winter’s night in Belfast in the middle of the recession in an empty restaurant in Bedford Street. He promised me it would never be dull, he was right. We had seven (and a half) years, except he played a magic trick and packed in about fifteen, living life at double speed, as if he knew. It’s the age of the internet, technology, cell phones, skype calls. Everything is fantastic, I can take on the world.
43-49: The Soft, Sorrowful Years: I was better not knowing what lay ahead. It comes to us all, we’ll each cross that bridge, or we fall into the precipice and be airlifted out. At any rate, I found myself in the get-on-with-it years. When sadness visits a life, it walks by slowly; when sorrow visits a life, it sits down and crosses it legs. Up until these years, I hadn’t known the difference. Eventually, sorrow gets up off the chair and leaves, leaves behind a soft peace, and hopefully a dollop of wisdom. The twenty-tens: we shall not see your like again, at least not for a while, I hope.
And so, I’m back to the start of a new seven-year cycle, and a fresh master narrative begins.