Cherishing Every Birthday

Yours is the year that
Counts no season
I can never be sure
What age you are.

--Vita Sackville-West

  Cole Phillips, "Time Of Her Life"

Cole Phillips, "Time Of Her Life"

Writers are always nervous when a potential new reader picks up your book for the first time, in front of you, especially at a book event.  When Simple Abundance was first published, I noticed this happening, quite often, at my signings.  Women flipping pages, reading and breaking into grins. Then a nod to another women, all very conspiratorial—using that code of facial gestures that girlfriends have used with each other since time began.  Since SA was new, it was all a great mystery to me. What passage could possibly spark the same reaction from each reader?   Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. I asked a few ladies what reflection they were discussing:  “Oh, my birthday. And you know what? It’s just perfect.  That’s where I am, or who I am…Or where I want to be…How did you know?"

Well, Babe, I guess I knew because I’m you and you’re me.  Feminine eternal twins, separated at birth, girlfriend.  And I’m so happy and grateful we found each other at last, even if it’s just on the page.

  My birthday meditation

My birthday meditation

Most birthdays are fun, at least when you’re little or have littles of your own to plan for.  I mean, you wake up and everybody makes a fuss over you and give you presents and cake.  Then, abruptly your mother announces that you’re too old to have a birthday party (I think that was at 13)—until the marker ones start coming along: 16, 18, 21, 25, 30, 35, 40, 50, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85, 90, 95 and 100.  After the century mark, birthday parties once again begin to become annual events.  Well, I’m aiming for that century milestone. It will probably take me that long to figure out what the blazes I’m supposed to be doing with my life.

My mother gave amazing birthday parties for her four children and my sister and I certainly tried to live up to her in that regard. When my daughter was little, the planning of the honoring of her nativity began months in advance.  This was during the 1980s and “theme” or destination birthday parties were all the rage:  dance studio, decorate your own pottery, tea at the Dollhouse Museum, pony rides, swimming, bowling, ice-skating and weekend long sleep-overs.

Are we having fun yet?  

  Life Magazine

Life Magazine

We could tell when the party was over because the birthday girl would eventually dissolve into tears brought on by excitement, exhaustion, too much sugar and expectations exceeding what’s humanly possible.  And her mother would gratefully sigh, “Done, for another year!

Well, this year I have officially become la femme d’un certain age. For women of a certain age, birthdays need to become like sacraments and I mean this sincerely.  In the Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox church, sacraments are “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”  What a beautiful description of a birthday observance. 

But here’s the catch.  You are the only person on earth capable of giving yourself the birthday ritual you deserve—one that is nurturing with genuine indulgences, well-spent moments, joyful simplicities, contemplation, closure, beauty and celebration.  Many people who love you will try, but no one can celebrate your birthday exactly the way you need for it to be observed.

That’s because no one else truly knows the year you’ve just completed; no one else has lived through every day of it. But you have. You know what you have endured in silence. You know the desperate prayers.  You know the inexpressible gratitude your soul feels after surviving a crisis.  What’s more, each year in our life is different.  Your 32nd, 48th, 59th, 64th and 69th birthdays won’t begin to even resemble the previous ones.

Your husband, partner, lover, children, friends and co-workers can be aware of recent events that have unfolded in your life, but only Heaven and your Soul knows how deeply these events reverberated in, around and through you.  Perhaps a love one has died, or a relationship has become estranged; perhaps a child has moved or a cherished job eliminated.  Perhaps you’re still reeling from a diagnosis for either yourself or a loved one and your days are filled with uncertainty and nights with dread; perhaps the financial crisis never ended for you and you don’t know how to replace the future you were planning on.  The shock of our own peculiar and particular losses, the navigation of the new terra nova you find yourself in must be acknowledged before it can be accepted, traversed and surmounted.

Maybe you need, not a boisterous family party, but a few private hours or days to remember and to honor the sacredness of change and transitions.  Birthdays are not only new beginnings, they are also moments of personal closure, which are crucial if we are to grow positively into our authenticity.

Every birthday, not just the public “markers” is a significant milestone.  Every age brings with it the hope of three hundred sixty-five Real Life lessons in, loving, risking, surviving, overcoming, hope and joy. “We turn, not older with years, but newer every day,” Emily Dickinson reassures the birthday girl in all of us.  And that is certainly something worth celebrating and giving thanks for.  So if your birthday is today, tomorrow or later this year, Happy Birthday!  Happy Birthday to you!

I’ve got a good feeling about this coming year—and I think it’s going to be our best yet. Heaven knows, Babes, we deserve a birthday for the books!

Sending you dearest love and heartfelt thanks for all the personal remembrances for my own candle moment.  It was just the birthday I needed, a winning combination of new make-up and convent prayers, and I don’t know how that can be topped!

Blessings on our courage and our tomorrows.