Our family celebrated birthdays over the weekend, and even though we didn’t celebrate my birthday, I thought about how quickly birthdays seem to come. I remember birthdays going so “slow” when I was a kid. They looked like years between 12 and 13 years old and decades between 17 and 18 years old. Of course, I felt like I had lived a century when my 21st birthday finally arrived.
Since then, my birthdays seemed to have gradually picked up “speed.” It’s kind of like I gained 3 pounds a year between the ages of 30 and 50. Unnoticeable a year at a time, but startlingly obvious 20 years later. Birthdays are coming up so fast now that I can still taste last year’s birthday cake.
The 24 hours of each day that I experienced at age 15 are still the same 24 hours that I experience today. But now each day has more meaning because of what I have experienced along the way. At 15, my biggest stress was finishing my Geometry homework. Now I have my cholesterol, my financial future, my children and many other things to worry about. But the biggest difference is that now I look at my pain and my losses and it puts a completely different spin on what’s really important in my life.
I realize that each birthday brings me closer to the end of my life, but I am not afraid or sad about it. I accept the reality that we all have a limited amount of time in this world. Birthdays remind me that I have work to do, people to love and cherish, amends to make, and a “to-do list” to get done. The pain and loss I have experienced creates a sense of urgency in my life and reminds me that the most important thing is to spend time with the people who are important in my life. I find that at some point I won’t be able to visit a sick friend or classmate, talk to my nephews on the phone, hold the little unborn babies, tell my children I love them, or even have control over my bodily functions. . But I’m not paranoid about this.
In fact, I’m a little disappointed at the end of each day if I don’t connect with someone who means something to me (even if it’s just the plants in my garden because my grandmother taught me they’re alive). With a third of my life over, I don’t want to waste precious days in front of the TV or complaining about things I can’t change. We all have a lot of power to influence people’s lives in a positive way, but we don’t often take advantage of that. Putting love into the world is the reason we were all sent here in the first place.
One of the organizational techniques I’ve learned throughout my professional career is to “begin with the end in mind” and work backwards from there. Having a clear vision of the “desired result” brings enormous clarity to the steps needed to achieve it. Since we all have the same end, maybe we should “work back” to this point and figure out what we need to do to be happy and at peace with our lives once it’s over. And since we can go at any time, every day becomes very important. Even if I am lucky enough to live another 25 years, at the rate these birthdays are approaching, it will be over fast.
Another birthday is coming up and another is right behind it. I have to call someone today. I have to hug someone today. I’m going to tell the grocery store cashier that I appreciate them. I’m going to call my son and tell him I love him.
I think chocolate cake sounds good this year.