A friend of mine recently had a birthday. This is not particularly unique in that birthday celebrations are a fairly common experience. Some of us enjoy them immensely while others of us cringe with the realiation that the odometer of life continues to click away.
Birthdays are meant to honor the day that the world was graced with the presence of someone. They may take the form of a quiet family celebration, a dinner for two, or a loud, raucous gathering of people from the four corners of the earth. They may be to mark a "zero" birthday as someone changes the first number of their age for another ten years.
The actual birth of a person is generally marked with celebration tinged with fear of an approximately seven pound bundle of wonder. Perhaps there were problems that meant that expectations had to be altered. But whatever the feelings, an actual birthday is usually a memorable event for a family. Although my sister was in France giving birth to my nephew and niece, I remember the joy at getting the call. I remember being late for class as a junior in college when someone ran down the hall to tell me that I had a telephone call. A call that announced a son for my Dad and stepmother. I remember visiting the hospital and two friends become parents both the first and second times...arriving at the moment in both cases when the birth certificates were being signed.
A first birthday is normally marked with a little being sitting in a high chair and getting to experience for the first time...the joy of sugar. Photos are snapped incessantly and the little thing is surrounded by relatives and friends who cannot believe that a year has already flown by.
The first decade has parties with themes, and activities and magical cakes. It is where the joy of receiving is far more prevalent than the joy of giving, and where parents attempt to recreate any missed experiences that they had in their own lives. Every child loves to be the birthday boy or girl. And for the parents...these years are marked with rarely having a weekend without a birthday party squeezed in somewhere.
At age ten, we fill up our two hands and marvel at the fact that this will be the last year we can physically display our age to people. We are crossing over to the point where we are expected to tell rather than show, and where spend-the-night parties prevail.
And then we become teenagers...a moniker that strikes fear into the heart of the adults in our lives and a period of time where we might get to mark a "sweet 16" and have the opportunity to learn to drive. Dating and flying off to college come during these years when it seems like we are perpetually too young to do anything really "fun"...so we keep wishing those birthdays around each year.
Age 20 is particularly cruel...no longer a teenager...but not yet an adult in every sense of the word. The birthdays in our 20's seem to be no big deal...we are no longer a kid...but we are young. We may be pairing up and starting families, establishing our careers or completing our educations or training. We may be enlisted in the military or buying our first home. Time is not our enemy.
When we turn 30, people start talking to us about "getting old" and being exhausted. We've shifted into overdrive in almost every facet of our existence. We strive so hard that we often burn out along the way...marriages left like roadkill, or health issues begin to present themselves. Our days are filled with soccer practice, baseball games, and church activities. Our parents are generally still in good health, and our children need us more. These birthdays click along in a blur...and we begin to see the seasons change more quickly and the days pass into months and years at warp speed.
At 40, we really begin to see the view from on top of the hill. Perhaps our waistlines or hairlines have taken a permanent vacation or we become "ma'am" to people that don't seem to be much younger than we are...except that they are. We are stretched thin and some days are actually dangerously close to snapping. We begin to understand that some of our dreams are going to be put on hold permanently, and we begin to accept this. We lose people that were important to us...teachers, church friends, and neighbors...and we may have to deal with losing family members as well. Economic challenges begin to mount as we educate our children and begin to realize that we have reached the apex of our earning potential. And the birthdays continue to roll around with each seeming to do so more quickly than the last.
At age 50, parties are planned...but are kinder than a decade ago. Our children are leaving or have already moved from the home. We begin celebrating silver wedding anniversaries and are watching our children get married. We realize that "looking good" means something entirely different than it did at 18...and we're okay with that. In fact, those who don't get that fact - the cougars - are looked upon with disdain. Okay, a little bit of envy too...but definitely some disdain.
When we turn 60, we begin to look toward retirement, are usually enjoying grandchildren and are still in great health. We may choose to travel now that our financial burdens are normally significantly lifted. We may start living some of those long-shelved dreams...anything from the trip of a lifetime to getting a tattoo. We may downsize and prioritize because the rat race of acquisition has left us with a house full of things that have no meaning to us. We may have even learned a tough lesson by having to clean out the house of a relative and we swore that it would never happen to us.
And then we turn 70. Did you know that there are no "Happy 70th Birthday" cards at the local Hallmark store? The number birthdays cards appear to cease at age 60. With people living longer and having wonderful, fulfilling lives, you'd think that this would not be the case. But it is. In my family, the 70's and 80's were periods of time when there may be some renovations made...but everything else was still within reach. The 90th birthday marked a time when a slowdown was finally necessary.
Birthdays give us the opportunity to mark where we are in life, and give others the chance to let us know how much they appreciate our presence in their lives. They might be difficult to experience sometimes, but they are coming around whether we choose to celebrate them or not.
So, this year as you celebrate your special day...remember that you will never pass this way again. Try to remember the joy of adding another finger to the physical presentation of your age instead of just giving it the middle one. You will never be any younger than you are today again. Frightening thought...isn't it? Or we can choose to be happy that we are still drawing breath. Can marvel at the joy of expectation of good things to come or at spending time with family.
Plus, you normally get to eat cake...so there's that.