Things I Learned on My Birthday (Which is as Good a Reason
as Any to Keep Celebrating Birthdays.)
My first thought upon waking yesterday morning was something
like, ”Well, I may be 79 now, but at least I have another year in my seventies
before I’m an officially-old “80.” And then the horrible truth hit me. We don’t
count from the beginning of a year. A baby is not a year old when she is born.
She won’t be a one-year-old until she has lived that entire first year. So I have lived my entire seventh decade. The
seventies are all behind me, and today marks the first day of my eighth decade—my
80’s! GAH! How did that happen?
OK. I’m officially old. So what do I have to show for it? I’m
still learning stuff, which is a good sign, I think. Yesterday we had several
torrential downpours, along with the unwelcome thunder and lightning that sends
the cats under the bed. But each time, the rain was followed by an immediate
burst of blazing sunlight. Sun splotches on the floors brought the cats out to
bask in them again—and to remind me that scary events are usually followed by joyful
ones. You just have to come out from under the bed and enjoy them.
Yesterday was also Kentucky Derby day, and as several of my
friends reminded me that I always rooted for the gray horse. But, alas, this
year there was no gray horse. I had no way to choose one over the other. And then I was reminded once again that color
doesn’t matter. Like cats, which are all
gray in the dark, so, on a muddy track, all horses are mud-colored by the end
of the race.
I must note one exception here. Have you seen the picture of
the end of the race, when the horses were cooling down? Horses and jockeys all
wear the same mud color—except for Justify, who was out front for almost the
entire race. His coat is still dark, and his jockey’s jersey is still white.
Lesson? When you’re the leader of the pack, no one kicks mud in your face. But, I must remember, he won the race by kicking
mud on everyone else. Maybe that’s a lesson about what not to do.
So I take one last look back at the list of those who sent
birthday wishes. The postings come from next door and down the street, but also
from around the world. I see addresses in Turkey, Australia, Ireland, England,
India, Lebanon, Canada, France, and Thailand. Some come from folks nearly as
old as I am—grade school classmates, long-lost cousins, colleagues from my
teaching days, and former students who sat in my classes 25 years ago. Others
are new friends—young writers I met in this year’s Camp NaNoWriMo Challenge and
fresh college graduates making the leap from campus service organizations to
full-fledged Lions Club members. Each one arrived trailing a cloud of memories and
offering another chance to smile.
I think I'll keep counting!
Time to vent, just a little, as we move deeper into December and the holiday hoopla. A time to stop, take stock, and remember what’s important in this life, and what is not.
A case in point:
I have some old friends, some folks with whom I connected many years ago when we were all working as mere “go-furs” behind the scenes of a large philanthropic organization. It’s been the kind of friendship that goes for months or years without contact but renews easily and joyfully when events bring us back together for a day or two. They are the kind of friends with whom you go for a drink, or a quick sandwich, exchange views of family pictures, mention future plans, and then spin off on your separate trajectories.
In the last few years, one of these friends has hit the fast track to international prominence, by now serving in a jaw-dropping executive position that has him and his wife jet-setting around the world, hob-knobbing with others whose names I have only encountered in the newspapers. I miss our quick reunions but have rejoiced in his successes.
And now . . .
Would I be pleased to find a Christmas card from him and his wife among the others that have started to arrive? Of course I would. One of the blessings of the holiday season is that we take time to remember the people who have played an important part in our lives..
Would I understand if his multiple responsibilities made it physically impossible for them to send out personal greeting cards this year? Of course I would. It really never occurred to me to expect a greeting from them.
But there it was in my mailbox . . .
. . . Christmas-stamped, sealed, and hand-signed . .
. . . and addressed only to my husband . .
. . . who, as most of you know, died almost two years ago.
So what are you doing this holiday season? Whatever it is, I hope it will be personal, heartfelt, and meaningful. It’s time to move beyond doing what’s expected, going through the motions, knee-jerking your way through the tasks at hand. Better to send one sincere message to someone who changed your life than to send out 500 identical — and meaningless — cards.