Thanksgiving leftovers have taken over the fridge, and the haphazard stack of holiday catalogs, which I have piled in the corner, threatens to topple over at any moment (at serious risk to life and limb). A new December is dawning with the same radical shifts between “Where did I put the sunscreen?” and “I stepped outside and my teeth shattered.” that are so familiar to us here in North Texas.
The signs are right and the stars are in alignment — it must be my Birthday.
Last year, when I wrote about my general stance toward birthdays, I really thought that I was done with the topic. And yet here I am again, a year later, and I find that my typically blasé attitude may have softened, just a bit.
I enjoy holidays, festivals and feast-days of all sorts because they follow a cyclical momentum through the passing of the year. I appreciate the transitions from one season into the next which these occasions usually celebrate, because in no small part, they speak of a kind of progress, which we can see, share and experience together.
My birthdays, at least once I was old enough for the training wheels to come off, have always seemed to focus on personal progress. “What have you done in the last year? What have you accomplished? You’ve only got so many good years left, so when are you going to make something of yourself?”
As the years pass, this thing that was supposed to be a celebration of living, feels more and more like an indictment on what I haven’t done.
Because we live in a world that revolves around getting things done.
At work, I am judged on how many people I manage help in a day, a week, a month.
And it doesn’t stop when I go home at the end of the day, because every minute of free time represents a choice I must make between household chores, personal projects, leisure activities, and the all too elusive freedom which comes with sleep.
These days, when someone asks me what I do with my spare time, I find myself wanting to deflect attention elsewhere, because my head is filled with a laundry list of unfinished projects, and no one wants to hear about things you haven’t done.
Throwing another birthday into the mix just adds that much more pressure.
“Damn Shaun, seems like that remodeling project will NEVER be done!”
“Hey, didn’t I read that you were building SOMETHING in your backyard?”
“No wife, no children, and you’re HOW old now?!”
“You really should spend MORE time painting/sculpting/writing…,”
“So what is it about this birthday that is different?” you may ask.
It’s hard to say for sure, but with certain new influences in my life, I find myself considering things from a fresh perspective. And if I were to ask myself a question on this birthday, it should not be, “What have I accomplished in the last year?” but rather, “How many good days did I have?”
Now somehow, I doubt that even the most ‘successful’ of us pass from this life with the satisfaction of having accomplished all of their goals. I could live another forty-something years, or I might die tomorrow. And what difference would it make how many things I checked off the great ‘to-do’ list, if I was so busy trying to get things done that I didn’t enjoy the time I had – be it days or decades.
We are told, from childhood, that we should aspire to greatness. And there is nothing wrong with having goals and dreams. But neither should the attainment of those things be at the expense of the ‘now’. I think there must something wrong with a culture that rates accomplishment over joy.
So, how many good days did I have in the last year?
Not as many as I would like, to be sure, but some of those good ones were simply amazing, and I’m hopeful that they will lead to still more in the coming year.
And bad days?
Yeah, there were a few more of those than I might have wished for.
However, if I have one regret this birthday, it is not about the few bad days, but rather the vast majority of them that just slipped by, unnoticed and unremembered.
And if I had one wish…, and there is that traditional spell which parents still remember and share with even their smallest children: Once a year, on the day of your birth, your breath against the candles’ flame, to send your hearts desire aloft in tendrils of smoke…,
…if I had one wish it would be that I finally learn to better appreciate the time as it passes, and to find the joys which may only be found in ‘the now’.
And yes, there are still things I want to accomplish, projects I need to complete, and goals I have yet to reach. But I will try not to punish myself, if another year finds them still unfulfilled. And if anyone else wants to judge me for my lack of material accomplishment…,
Well, it’s my Birthday after all — so let them eat cake!