6 April 2014

Today I am fifty-one years old. Once the coffee kicked in and I could think, I realized that I don’t feel much different than I did yesterday when I was still fifty (all things being relative of course).  And since it’s Sunday and I won’t see my husband at all today (he’s a church musician and Sunday’s a twelve hour day), I don’t mind at all that I have to wait until tomorrow to celebrate.  Of course, the fact that we’re going to my very favorite restaurant makes that easier!

When you’re a kid, birthdays are a big deal; most people of my age can remember the rather ridiculously elaborate parties, sometimes with a clown or a puppet show (Good God, Dad, how could you let Mom spend all that money?), that were thrown for us.  Our friends were usually there, but sometimes we’d have to invite our entire class from school so there would be kids in my house that under other circumstances I would have set the dogs on (if we had had dogs).  And let’s be real:  the only thing any of us remembered for any significant length of time after all that hoopla was the loot, presents being the raison d’être of the entire overblown afternoon.

I forget at what age the parties ceased, but I am sure it was not to soon to suit my Dad, who was a rather frugal man (a child of the Depression, I don’t think he ever quite recovered from his early poverty).  And Mom was probably relieved at having one less occasion when she had a bunch of people in her nice clean house (it was different when it was family, but only to a point).  Instead of all the fuss, Mom might cook our favorite dinner (or as my brother and I got older, we’d go out), and we’d get one nice gift.  Later on the dinner out was itself the gift.    And then my Dad retired and my parents moved to Florida while my brother and I remained in New York.  Birthday cards arrived, usually with a check inside (always much appreciated).  My brother and I both married and the four of us celebrated birthdays together a few times, but more often just dinner out with our spouses was sufficient.

Then my parents died, my marriage broke up, my brother and I had a falling out that has never been mended, and I fell ill with a chronic condition that remains with me to this day.  I had to apply for Social Security Disability, a degrading process that took more than three years, put me through hell, and cost me nearly everything I owned.  Four birthdays passed almost unnoticed; alone and unwell, I “celebrated” by splurging on a bottle at the liquor store and getting drunk.  I didn’t become an alcoholic, but I definitely skated right up to the edge, and probably avoided it only because I didn’t have the money to drink that heavily that often.

Then on 28 April 2002, a friend of mine introduced me to a man he thought I would like, and my whole life changed.  I had never believed in love at first sight, but I shook John’s hand, took one look into those baby blue eyes, and the rest is history:  we went from “Nice to meet you” to “How about going out sometime?” to “I love you” to “Will you marry me?” in about a month.  We got married on 21 December 2002 at the Unitarian Church of Summit NJ.

The point of my apparent digression is that for several years I virtually ignored my birthdays.  Using them as an excuse to get shit-faced is hardly “celebration,” and really, I was practically homeless so what was to celebrate?  But not too long after John and I got married, my SSD case was finally approved and I not only had a decent income to bring to the marriage but I got three years back benefits and could pay all of my debts and even get a decent car.

So I think it was then that I understood why we celebrate birthdays.  Sure, you don’t go to bed feeling fifty and wake up feeling fifty-one (?!?), but you’ve survived another year of a life that is often unfair, unpredictable, and painful.  But that part isn’t what you celebrate.  What you celebrate are all the parts that were joyous and uplifting and beautiful, and since 2002 my birthday prayer has always been “God, please grant me many more years with this man; it took me forty years to find him, and my one wish is to be with him as long as we can.”

(Okay so I probably throw in a wish for more money, but that one’s more than half a joke and I think God knows that.)

So tomorrow we will enjoy a delicious meal and drink a toast of thanks that we have lived this long, that we have each other, and that we may have each other for a long time.  For me, there’s more of a reason to celebrate birthdays now than ever before.  Perhaps because the more we have, the fewer we are going to have, we grow to appreciate them that much more.



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