My birthday was ten days ago. Miraculously, the weather was lovely that day—sunny, highs in the 70s, low humidity. Highly unusual for that date. My birthday almost always falls on one of those insufferably hot, humid and airless midsummer days familiar to Minnesotans.
When I was a kid my birthday was usually too hot for active games or hiking outdoors, except for swimming at the lake or running through the sprinkler. Since no one had air conditioning in those days, I often ended up spending much of the day reading or drawing–in front of a fan, if one was available. I loved when I got to run outside in a cloudburst, but sometimes we had to hustle down to the basement when tornadoes threatened.
I remember many birthday dinners on the picnic table in the summerhouse, a screened-in gazebo up in the trees away from the main house in our side yard. It was cooler here, and meals had the festive air of picnics but with fewer bugs and real silverware.
Each of us kids got to choose the menu for our birthday dinners. Despite the heat, I always chose spaghetti and meat sauce, which my mother made, and my family ate, without complaint (which seems awfully sweet to me now). Nor did they gripe about my white (not chocolate!) birthday cake.
I love birthdays. Not just my own, but everybody’s–the idea of birthdays. Maybe because I came from a high-achieving family, I relish the idea that everyone has a day once a year to be celebrated–for no achievement, for no reason other than being alive. When else do we do this—at least for people outside our close family and friends–aside from birthdays?
So I make a point of trying to remember and acknowledge birthdays. I like that facebook makes this easy now for those of us who are on it. Though I know that facebook greetings are less meaningful than an actual card sent in the mail or an email, even a quick facebook message sends a bit of love, a note that says “I see you and am glad you are in my world.” A message we can never get tired of, can we?
I don’t think (at least since I’ve become an adult) that birthday gifts are as important as this message of belonging. Though it is fun to bestow unexpected gifts intermittently, when I find something that seems perfect for that person. The surprise is itself part of the gift.
I know some people say birthdays are not important to them—perhaps birthdays were not celebrated when they were young, or were the source of pain or conflict. My dad was one of these. But like my mom, who over the years taught my dad the joys of birthday celebrations, I ignore these protestations and pass on birthday blessings anyway.
So I cheer on folks wearing funny hats or pins saying “It’s my birthday!” and join in when servers sing “Happy Birthday” to restaurant patrons.
Each of us, no matter our age, is so tender, mighty and mysterious—isn’t that a cause for celebration?
What are your memories of birthdays? How have they shaped the way you celebrate birthdays now? What is your idea of an ideal birthday?