Love or loathe them, we all have them: birthdays. March 3rd was a landmark birthday for my brother-in-law, Richard, and he was not at all happy about entering a new decade. This got me to thinking about our differing attitudes to birthdays and ageing and how these change through our lifetime.
As very young children we are oblivious to the passage of time and days leading up to an event are counted in the number of “sleeps” they have before it happens.
As we get older we get excited and look forward to our special day with all the attention and presents it brings.
Then comes the time when we start to wish we were older so that we are allowed to do more things. I distinctly remember being at a school friend’s eighth birthday party where we were seated round the table having the traditional birthday tea. After the cake was brought in and the candles blown out, someone said “I wish I was nine”. The others all joined in with various older ages being longed for but I was sitting thinking “I don’t want to be older; I wish I was six again”. I can’t say if this was because I wanted to go back to avoid all the mistakes I had made (I was a terrible perfectionist), or if I had wisdom beyond my years and saw the folly of wishing your life away. Most likely it was because at six we still got a half-day off from school on Wednesdays and did not get homework! Whatever the reason, at that time I did not have the courage to express this different view.
As we enter into adulthood we seem to become more reticent about our age, deeming it irrelevant. Then we go full cycle with many of those who live into their eighties or nineties becoming quite proud and boastful of their longevity.
The first time I visited the Bon Secours Sisters and Associates in Marriottsville I was given an alarm clock which played “Happy Birthday”. I was not sure if you were supposed to program it to play that tune just on your birthday but for many years I elected to wake up to those familiar notes! Hearing your birthday song each day is a little like being born again: a new day, a new life to start afresh!
So how important is our actual birth date? The story in my family is that my grandfather for many years, until required to produce a birth certificate for his marriage, celebrated his birthday on the wrong day of the month. How many of those who have gone before us or those still living in the world today have no record of their birth? And yet, like New Years day, it does give us an opportunity to reflect back on our life and consider our future, our dreams and plans for the next year.
My brother- in -law’s birthday March 3rd, was also my mother’s birthday which she celebrated with joy to her last, her 84th. I have not heard yet whether Richard appreciated it but, along with his birthday card, I sent him a copy of Joyce Rupp’s “Birthday Blessing” and even if only the last verse touches him, hopefully he, like mum will:
“ …hear the marvellous music
Singing in your soul every moment,
Lauding the exquisite gift of being alive.”