Ah, my birthday. Again.
I remember when birthdays took forever to arrive. All that anticipation! One of my granddaughters recently turned five and she could barely contain herself with the anxious excitement. It seemed like her special day would never come, especially since she had to somehow survive her little sister’s birthday the week before. By the end of that day she retreated to her bed, all pouty and sad. I whispered in her ear that in a few more hours it wouldn’t be her sister’s birthday anymore. I don’t know if that was skillful, but it certainly cheered her up.
At my age birthdays seem to come around much faster, in turn making them seem more ordinary. Every day on Facebook it’s some friend’s birthday. It’s like a birthday ball bouncing around in a circle and each of us holds it for a brief moment before it passes on to someone else. In that moment it’s fun to be the center of attention, but it’s also a relief to let it go.
Some of us dread our birthdays as annoying reminders that yet another year has passed. There’s no getting around the fact that this corporal life is finite. Finding a way to be in a comfortable relationship with impermanence is a big vital challenge. We get training by our losses, each one carving out a little more understanding if we take the time to be present with our grief; or a little more frantic denial if we ignore it.
By this time in our lives it’s not the number of years we’ve accumulated but how we have lived that makes us feel old or young. Wallowing in regret, freaking out about the future, over-indulging and striving for distant goals all seem to add years. Living in the moment with whole-hearted authenticity, a sense of unity with all beings may make us seem younger, or may make us not care how old we look!
If our age doesn’t correlate with how we feel inside, like some alien label that doesn’t fit, it’s only that we have a whole set of misconceptions to what being that age looks like and means. If we can recognize that this right here is what this age feels like and looks like, then we can age with more ease.
My biggest problem with birthdays has been that I felt so naked in my ‘birthday suit’, waiting, passive and powerless, until this strange day passed. I create my life the way I want the other 364 days of the year, but on my birthday there was a sense of having to pass the baton for the day and hope that someone would carry it. Would the designated people ‘responsible’ for my birthday (close relatives and friends since our youth) remember to call or send a card? If so, phew. If not, woe is me. Fortunately I began to notice how people often take control over their own birthdays, throwing parties and creating the day they want for themselves. What a relief to have permission to do the same.
Throughout my birthday there were impromptu visits, cards, phone calls, emails, text messages and Facebook greetings. How delightful! This is the first year I have let Facebook broadcast my birthday to my friends. I realized how much I rely on it to remind me of friends’ birthdays and allow me to easily send them good wishes, so why should I be so churlish? It felt great to get greetings, and at every notification throughout the day I would immediately ‘like’ and ‘comment’. When my oldest son called and I told him I was feeling a wee bit overwhelmed, he said, “Mom, you just wait til the next day and respond to everyone with one comment, like: “Thanks everyone for all your birthday greetings. I had a great day and you helped to make it so.’ Brilliant. I’ll remember that for next year! Maybe.
There was also a year when I realized that a birthday can be simply a day to be grateful for having been born. How about a shout out to the mother who went through labor all those years ago? And to the father who played his part so well? And to the doctor who delivered us? My doctor was said to be grateful to me for coming out quick enough so that he didn’t miss his tee time at the golf course. Oh yes, I was a born people-pleaser.
Finding a way to live with this 1/365th of our life experience can be challenging. Some seem to do it so easily while others struggle. A birthday is a good day to be especially present to listen to the kind loving words of others and to notice the inner conversation that can make the day either pleasant or a living hell.
Last year I spent my birthday on retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. It fell on Day Four of the retreat, and I was so happy to feel so fully alive in silence, aware of everything. It felt like the best birthday ever.
Maybe having had that birthday ‘time out’ from social interaction and the possibility of expectation last year, allowed me to come to this birthday with a fresher, less needy way of being. In the early morning hours when I woke up to see it was going to be a really hot day, I decided what I wanted: To have a picnic lunch in a shady place, and if my kids and grand-kids were available then we’d have it in a shady playground by a creek. And in the evening maybe we could sit out in the warm night at a local French restaurant and have a dinner salad. And thus I formulated a spontaneous birthday that suited the day and suited me, and it too was the best birthday ever.
Wishing you all wonderful birthdays whenever they are and however you choose to spend them. And thanks once again to the many people who made this birthday so lovely. And oh yes, most especially, Thanks Mom! You are always in my heart, and I’ll always feel gratitude for your greatest gift to me: This very life.