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A True Birthday Celebration

Why I love birthdays

I’m going to get out ahead of myself and announce that I love birthdays. I love your birthday and I love mine. Birthdays, in my opinion, are a chance to celebrate the wonder of people and the even more wonderful capacity that we people have for growth.

Having said that, I am writing this on the eve of my birthday, annually a good day for a little introspection and retrospection. This year marks one of those birthdays that ends with a 5, hopefully a mid-mark of another decade here on planet Earth.

I remember vividly the joy and anticipation I felt when celebrating my last birthday that ended with a zero. Having (mostly) happily bounced through the previous decade watching three rather extraordinary (at least in my eyes) kids morph into three surprising and rather extraordinary young adults, I was eager to see what life had in store for me.

I am profoundly thankful that one of my birthday gifts that year was not a crystal ball. Realistically, had I known how the next five years would challenge me, stretch me, and, in some ways, break me, I would have been more afraid than excited. But, while painful, the past five years, have also been a profoundly fertile time of growth and change – exactly what I believe we celebrate when we celebrate birthdays.

We can bear it – whatever “it” is

In an interview with Krista Tippett on On Being, Kate DiCamillo (a beloved author of fiction for young people) speaks of her childhood friend who read, reread, and reread again Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. When she asked her friend if she was rereading the book in hopes that things would work out differently, her friend replied,

“No. It wasn’t that. I kept reading it not because I wanted it to turn out differently or thought that it would turn out differently, but because I knew for a fact that it wasn’t going to turn out differently. I knew that a terrible thing was going to happen, and I also knew that it was going to be okay somehow. I thought that I couldn’t bear it, but then when I read it again, it was all so beautiful. And I found out that I could bear it. That was what the story told me. That was what I needed to hear. That I could bear it somehow.”

This certainty that we can bear it gets to the heart of what I am celebrating when I celebrate the wonderful capacity that you and I have for growth. I am celebrating the constant stream of hope that flows through (and can, if we let it, carry us through) the hardest parts of life. Hope that we will be OK – that we can more than bear it, we can thrive.

Life is wonderful even when terrible things happen

In that same interview, DiCamillo cracks herself up mentioning her character Flora’s (from Flora & Ulysses) favorite book, Terrible Things Can Happen to You!  Her laughter at her own choice of hilarious title made me burst out laughing as well. Yes, terrible things can happen to you and me. And I can imagine 8-year-old Flora clutching her book in subliminal self-defense. But the rest of the story is that life is wonderful and beautiful even when it’s hard and painful. This is the hard truth that DiCamillo shares with such grace and love with her young readers.

Likewise, my gift from this year’s birthday pause of introspection and retrospection is another healthy dose of joy and anticipation. As I pass through the threshold of the first half into the next half of this decade, I, like Flora and Kate DiCamillo’s childhood friend, know that terrible things can happen. I choose, however, to cling to a deeper, more powerful, and hopeful truth – terrible things can happen, and I will be OK. I will be better than OK. I will thrive in ways worthy of celebrating on my birthday next year.

Monthly spiritual direction meetings helped me navigate the twists and turns of the last five years of my life with grace and faith. Reach out if you’d like to know more about this transformative and sustaining practice.