Birthdays

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In my family, summer birthdays tend to roll in like waves on the ocean…we celebrate one and then another comes rolling in right behind it.  The first birthday of the summer is my husband’s…often a low-key affair suiting his don’t-make-a-fuss-over-me personality.  However, our summers end with a splash and a sparkle as we celebrate two of our granddaughter’s birthdays in close succession.  This summer our celebrants will range in age from three to ninety-five...so we all have many years to celebrate myself included.  

 I didn’t always enjoy my summer birthday.   My birthday lands right after the 4th of July so often many of my friends were traveling or too busy to come to a birthday party. I was often jealous of my two sisters, because usually one or the other would celebrate their late summer birthday while we vacationed in Minnesota.  A birthday at Rutgers’s Pine Beach Lodge meant a special cake and a spectacular serenade by the wait staff.  However, I eventually realized that having a birthday after “Firecracker Day” was remarkable in its own way; because once the last sparkler dimmed I knew my celebration would continue.   After I married and moved away, my Mom used to call and reminisce that it just didn’t “seem right to come home after the fireworks and not wrap birthday presents.”   Outwardly, I would roll my eyes, but inwardly I’d beam knowing that she thought my day was special, too.    

I suppose all these birthday memories have been sparked by a book that I am reading… Lab Girl.  It is the autobiography of Hope Jahren, a geochemist and geobiologist.  In the third chapter, Jahren writes eloquently about the intricacies of a seed and the perfect if not miraculous series of events that must coalesce for a plant to be born.  Seeds of course are alive, but they are waiting for the right conditions to take a chance and grow.  It requires a seamless “combination of temperature-moisture-light and many other things to convince a seed to jump off the deep end and take its chance.”  Ever since I read this, I have been fascinated by the thought of seeds waiting for the optimal time to emerge and be.  As Jahren continues…

Each beginning is the end of waiting.  We are each given exactly one chance to be.  Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” 

The idea of us each having “one chance to be” resonated with me and left me trying to hold both the “impossible and inevitable” in my own head.  Are our births, our beginnings both “impossible and inevitable?”  Maybe like the seed we did wait…waited to set our tap root down and offer our fragile cotyledon to the sun and air.   Perhaps that is what we commemorate on our birthdays…the seeming randomness and improbable audacity of our birth.  Yet, maybe there is something else to celebrate.  Maybe birthdays are a chance to begin again, and start afresh in full gratitude for our place here on earth be it random, a miracle, inevitable, or all of the above.

This year I will turn sixty six.  Sixty six is a palindrome, so I am hoping that it will be a unique perch from which I can not only look back but also ahead.  Like Janus the Roman god who was depicted looking both forwards and backwards, I want to pause in this doorway between before and after.  Yet, I do not want to sit and moan the past nor fear the future.  I want to be in this in-between space and savor what is.   This is all I have…this moment, this word, this breath, this day.  Isn’t each moment a birth of sorts, too?  Jon Kabat Zinn reminds us that we are human beings not “human doings.”  Perhaps a birthday is a good time to start being and live up to the name we have been given. ~c.h.