Yesterday was my birthday.
The day got me thinking about my birthdays over the years and the emotions that have accompanied them.
As a young cub, birthdays are highly anticipated, big, blissful, and full of goodness- One of my favorite childhood photos is one of me with a bright yellow crown, eyes wide open as I am about to dive into a massive chocolate cake, complete with “COCO is 3” emblazoned in green icing. I now see the excitement so clearly from the vantage point of a mother to two young boys. “Mama, when is my birthday? Mama, I want a police helicopter for my birthday. Mama, I will be five on my birthday and Oliver will be three on his birthday…but Mama, my birthday comes first. Mama, I think on my next birthday I will be big….” Birthdays of youth are bursting with all things good: cake(s), friends, songs, parties, a nap-free day, a breaking-the-rules day…joy! Birthdays can’t come quick enough…and they can’t last long enough for most lucky kiddos.
As the years continued and adolescence dawned, some fears crept into my birthday process. I remember the school year starting and feeling a slight pressure to ensure that I could rally a crowd by mid September. (“What if no one comes to my party? What if no one acknowledges my birthday? What if everyone does, and it’s embarrassing?”) Somehow, more questions became a part of the birthday: Am I too old to have a party? Why am I developing so slowly? So quickly? No doubt these birthdays remained a source of excitement, but some intimidation and self-judgement joined the annual event.
Early adulthood and the years that follow brought a range of feelings and emotions. There were the milestone birthdays… (I can drive! I can vote! I can drink! Should I be more settled? What about relationships and family? Baby? Work?) There was plenty of fun and celebration, but birthdays also became a check-point and sometimes a source of anxiety if some part of life was deemed lacking or troublesome. Some years I avoided the actual number, fearing I was “too old” in certain environments but might be penalized for being “too young” in others. No need to always state the year of birth, right?
This year I turned 37. No big milestone…and a day in a year that has been challenging on many levels. Yet somehow this birthday probably taught me more than any other has to date. This year my birthday delivered a message: don’t take this day for granted.
The seemingly simple ability to track and contemplate birthdays over decades of life is a sign of incredible good fortune. I can only imagine what my father would have done to celebrate just one more birthday here on Earth with his loved ones — or what we would do to have him here for just one more day. And on a global level – a single birthday is a goal that is out of reach for far too many people, infants, children, parents. I have witnessed this first-hand in my work with communities struggling with health epidemics, drought, and poverty…yet at times I still drift and can be consumed by much less important concerns and fears.
This year reminded me that birthdays are a true privilege – and I hope my 37th year will be guided by the joy and the call to service that they inspire…as well as the gratitude to everyone who has supported my birthdays along the way!
A very cool way to celebrate birthdays by giving children around the world a shot at life: http://shotatlife.org/act/