Celebrating Your Birthday: Why it Matters Even as the Years Add Up
Let’s face it…birthdays lose their appeal after a certain age. Kids celebrate these days with exhausting enthusiasm as they look forward to first the gifts and then the confirmation they are indeed getting older. Kids tend to think childhood is all about rules, so growing up must mean a person can do whatever she wants. We all know this isn’t true, but a child would never believe that. So the birthday is quite a celebration, one entire day dedicated to nothing but the miracle of you.
The first milestone birthday is 13 because it puts a child into his teen years. After that the landmarks roll by with regular and keen anticipation: a driver’s license at 16, official adulthood at 18 and – finally – the right to drink alcohol at 21.
Life looks pretty good for nearly a solid decade. But the sheen of receiving gifts and passing milestones doesn’t last forever.
In later years, cake and ice cream – if they’re even allowed into the diet, which seems to never end just as it seems to also never begin – are a façade; they mask underlying hints of wistfulness and even despair because life doesn’t operate in the reverse. People don’t have the opportunity to start old and then work their way toward youth. Instead the opposite is true, and all the wisdom and power of hindsight do not slow the aging process. Nothing does.
At some point a person realizes birthdays can be celebrated in riotous fashion, but the parties are little more than reminders of the elusive passage of time. The clock ticks even when we would beg it to do otherwise, as if to remind us our control is limited. Sometimes – just sometimes – it’s hard not to cry on the morning of a birthday because everything in life is finite. The pleasures and sorrows are momentary, and we know this even as we try to frantically hold onto or rapidly pass through them.
Despite time’s irreversibility, a birthday is still an occasion.
Whether celebrating a child’s first or an adult’s ninetieth, the turning of another year is an achievement. It means you did something right and have still more time to reach your crowning achievement. If this is hard to believe, think of all the people who pass away long before their time - those who lose their lives to disease, car accidents and senseless tragedies. Imagine the pleasure these people would have derived in passing from young adulthood to middle age and then to senior status.
All those years of memories – both good and bad – mark a life well lived.
You can’t deny that aging is difficult. Each decade is supposed to bring a newer and deeper level of meaning, although sometimes we wish we could go back in time and redo an entire decade to actually get it right. But even mistakes help give significance to life, just as relationships – broken and intact – family woes and moments of triumph do as well. It’s all a great big package we get to unwrap moment by moment and then commemorate on each of our individual birthdays.
The gist here is to never fear the coming and going of another birthday. Celebrate each with bold pleasure because life is intended to be fleeting but satisfying. And know that when you depart from this world, you’ll leave a little piece of yourself behind for everyone to remember