What is it about birthdays that make them special days of celebration? They only have a relationship to an arbitrary phenomenon, the time it takes our planet to complete one orbit around the sun. Is it like the spring in an old fashioned clock that is slowly winding down toward the end of our lives? That doesn’t seem like much of a reason to celebrate.
We humans love cycles and rhythms, no matter whether it is brief as the cycle of our heart beat and breath, or over increasingly long periods of time: the return of the minute and hour hand to the 12; the sun rising in the east, disappearing in the west and reappearing again the next morning; the moon waxing and waning over the course of a month; the cycle of the seasons and the centuries; the birth and death of stars and galaxies. Perhaps the lack of a cycle that we can discern is what disturbs us so much about the birth and death of the universe.
But I digress. Birthdays. I loved getting messages and emails (mostly social media messages – it is, after all, 2020) saying hi, wish you a special day, you are important to me and more. Even more so did I feel loved and honored when close friends went out of their way to be sure I had a personal message – one even leaving an out-of-tune happy birthday song on our WhatsApp chat – clearly sung when he first woke up because he wanted it to be the first thing I heard when I looked at my iPhone.
And then there was everything that my dear life’s partner, friend, lover, teacher and spouse did for me before, during and at the end of the day. The carefully selected “For Better or Worse” cartoon where Elly and John are lying in bed just before going to sleep – the words in the bubble cut out and Susan’s own humor written instead, acknowledging how fast more than 30 years together had slipped by and how wonderful (mostly, anyway) they had been. The happy birthday sung as I came into the living room on my birthday morning, Lilly bouncing around excitedly with no clue what the commotion was about but content to play with her humans, the carefully chosen books, the wonderful, creative dinner and reading more cartoons before going to sleep – all of this to say “I love you”.
Then came Susan’s birthday, exactly two weeks later. I had gathered ideas about what she might want over the past few weeks – sometimes from what she explicitly told me she wanted (she always struggles with that as I do, and probably for the same reason: when you are so blessed with privilege, love and almost every imaginable possession that you ever wanted, how do you think of wanting yet something else?) It was watching her trying to keep warm outside as late Fall and Winter are coming on that gave me the idea of new warm things to put over her ears and around her neck, knowing how much she loves little chocolate goodies, and finding a way to tell her how special she is.
I love to tease her almost as much as she loves to tease me, so it was so much fun to put all her warm wrap up presents in a shoe box with my shoe size clearly on the cover of the box. She had said that she needed new shoes, so I was happy to pretend that was what I had bought her – and laughed so hard when she looked at the shoe size and a frown crept across her brow.
Fixing her a special dinner of one of the few dishes I have created myself that she really loves; chocolate brownie cake that was supposed to be heated up in the microwave first, which made the chocolate frosting so hot that it melted the bottoms of the birthday candles so they fell over before I could bring the cake to the table for her to blow them out; raspberry ice cream to put on top, because I know how much she loves raspberries. And, at the end of the day, reading a few more pages from old comic books that both of us have already almost memorized – but who cares?
For me, it was again a manifestation of St. Francis’ prayer – it is in loving that we are loved and in giving that we truly touch our souls.