Musings on a Birthday
Today is my birthday. I know that cosmically speaking it is a day like any other. Planet Earth turns, Sun shines and day follows night. But to me today feels different. And I bet that most people understand why. It is in our DNA, the way our parents conditioned us, from a very early age when they helped us blow out the candles on the birthday cake. Family and friends congratulate me. I look forward to it — a dozen or so phone calls, a dozen or so messages on Facebook, a few emails and a few cards; a few gifts, some of them nicely wrapped. My wife will cook me a nice dinner, or we’ll go out. We will toast with a glass of wine or champagne. Perhaps I’ll see some friends, and I’ll Facetime with my children and grandchildren.
I know this because I’ve been through it many times — some might expect me to say more times than I care to remember. That wouldn’t be true. Time passes fast, yet I am happy with where I am. I had a good life. I still do, and please take this affirmation as my philosophical reflection on my 68thbirthday.
I know that birthdays, like the New Year, are opportunities for reflection and resolutions: lose thirty pounds, work with weights, write 700 words every day, stop taking long naps in the afternoon. I think about it, but, well, none of this is for me.
And since I mentioned the passage of time, I remember when I was six or seven and regarded the children who were fifteen as being very big and strong. At fifteen I thought that thirty was kind of old. And in my thirties when we talked about the turn of the millennium (year 2000) it was an event so far away that futuristic sci-fi movies were being made about it. Now all of it is well in the past.
Sometimes I wonder how it might be if I were younger again, which is nonsense, of course, and it wouldn’t matter anyhow. On a cosmic scale my (everybody’s) age is a joke. Everything I (we) accomplish is a joke. Nothing matters, we are minuscule sparks dancing fleetingly in the huge bonfire of the universe; in the huge forest where a large fire is raging in the universe; on the huge mountain range where the forest grows where the fire burns in the universe. Where there is no beginning or end.
Some friends and acquaintances of my generation have left this life already. Not many — but more than I have fingers and toes. We have been a lucky generation — the baby boomers — so far, no serious war to speak of. The people I knew who are no longer around died mostly of cancer, and two or three of them of heart disease. Could this happen to me? Could I die? Not ‘could.’ It will happen for sure. Yet sometimes, on my birthdays perhaps, I allow myself to think that I’ll be spared, because I feel special, you see? Because I am me! How could this happen to me?
I wish I could believe that dying is like flipping a switch. Nothing ends, and you simply pass from one room into another, and the space you enter is more than a room. It is a pasture with wild flowers and bees that don’t sting, with a lazy river, and old willow trees, where the people you love welcome you, and the people you liked less seem much friendlier now.
And I know better than to think like this, although, sometimes, when I forget myself and get carried away with my writing, I dream — hope, wish — not that I will not die, but that I’m writing a novel so great, so original, powerful and true, that my words will survive me, as they survived other writers in the world and shaped who we are as a civilization. Then I wake up.
I look at my little daily tasks, and execute them faithfully, each time, the best I can. And I am happy with a balanced life, a loving family with a beautiful wife, children and grandchildren, a clean house, a good meal, and a “Happy birthday!” wish.
A little arithmetic: if there are 7 billion people in the world and 365 days in a year, I am sharing my birthday with around 20 million people. Of those I know two. One is a beautiful girl of thirteen, the daughter of good friends of ours. I happen to be her godfather. I’m sure I will talk to her today and congratulate her, and she will congratulate me in that charming high voice of a teenager. The second person is a friend of my son. I don’t expect to talk to him — I just know we share a birthday. Two other friends of mine, born the same year as I, will call me for sure. They always do. Austin’s birthday is tomorrow, and Peter’s the following day. My friendship with Peter started in first grade. They both like to say I’m a very old compared to them, the one or two day difference being the clue of their joke. Invariably, I tell them that with age comes wisdom, and then I call them on their respective birthdays, tomorrow and the day after, and ask them if they feel more intelligent. They ignore me. We laugh.
And so it is — another tick, another tack, another spin around the axis, another birthday for me.
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