November 8, 2010

Maybe It's Me: Love and Time, or, The Very Best Birthday Gift I Could Wish For You

I’ve always seen birthdays as the remarkable reminder of someone’s existence. A rejoicing of their unique selves and of their one-of-a-kind life.

Yet, so many people see birthdays as a negative thing. For some it’s the morbid reminder of mortality, of just how much further away from youth and closer to death they really are. Instead of enjoying their birthday – of which each year can only be celebrated once in a person’s lifetime – some internal clock haunts and taunts them with the passing of time.

Growing up, growing older . . . these things are inevitable and they’re nothing to be ashamed or upset about, because absolutely nothing can be done to prevent it. It’s sad to me the way our culture mocks and even instills fear about growing older. We shouldn’t be riddled with self-doubt or paranoia or depression with each birthday; we should be appreciative our lives lived to that point, joyfully embracing the time we’ve been given with loved ones.

I digress. While I can’t remember every birthday I’ve had, there are some I can recall as easily as if it had happened only yesterday.

I spent my seventeenth birthday with my mom in the Old Port of Portland, Maine. I had never been prior to that, and she said she had been saving that special part of the world for just she and I to share when I was ready. There was this one moment as I stood in the middle of the cobblestoned streets overlooking the ocean holding a specialty coffee drink in one hand and a stuffed duck in the other where I was heartsick over the fact that it was my last year as a kid, before I became adult (paralleled in that coffee and stuffed animal). I didn’t know it then – no seventeen year old does – that age really is a state of mind. One can still be as youthful as they want; being a kid at heart has gotten me further in life than acting my age has so far.

On my twenty-fourth birthday, my four best friends came out to see me one after the other. It started on my birthday and ended at Thanksgiving. They flew from Michigan, New York, Tennessee, and England to spend time with me, and to make sure I knew how special and loved I was. I didn’t deserve such thoughtfulness, but was grateful those boys orchestrated one of the best gifts I had ever received.

Last year, on my twenty-fifth birthday, I spent most of the day crying. My own personal existential crisis was happening, because a quarter century of life had passed. And what had I done with it so far? Was I where I wanted to be? I was comforted by older friends and family who reminded me that it was just another number. And that, as far as I was concerned, it shouldn’t bother me given that at best of times I only looked twenty-one and worst of times I still looked sixteen. Twenty-five had nothing on me.

Whether it be age 17 or 24, 5 or 12 - throughout every year there has been one central theme to each birthday I’ve had: love. It has been the very backbone to every year I’ve been graced with living.

This year was no exception. It was by the far the most unimpressive, yet most perfect, birthday’s I’ve had to date. I woke up and did yoga, because my body, mind, and soul truly appreciate the time I take to focus on loving it wholly – yoga does this for me. I went to lunch with my mom – my only real birthday tradition. Lately I find myself studying her when she isn’t looking – trying to lock in every inch of her face into my brain, the way she looks when she’s thinking or laughing or crying, trying to make sure that I see myself in her.

This year was incredibly special for her – as of my turning twenty-six, she officially became a parent half her life. I can’t even begin to fathom what that feels like; what emotions and memories and thoughts that must have stirred up within her. I can only hope that I've been as good a daughter as she deserves. She's a very special woman, and I'm a very lucky girl.

And, for the first time in a year, I spent time with my sister. Fourteen hours to be exact. We did nothing exceptional: went to the movies and dinner, watched smut TV, talked about books, and food, and health, and boys, and life. And when I dropped her off at the end of the night, there was this moment in the car where neither one of us really wanted it to end; some magnetic pull connecting our hearts, which I think one only really understands and feels with a sibling they’re close to and have shared their life with.

Outside of my mom who’s been there every day since I was born, my sister has been, well, my sister and my best friend for twenty-two years. Love and friendships like that don’t happen very often, do they? Unless they are sustained organically, like through familial ties.

I drove home in tears. On the surface, my birthday was very plain. Boring even. Yet, looking beyond the superficial surface, it was one of the best days of my life. I got to spend time with the two people I love the most in life. And just be. And love. And feel loved.

Which, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is the best part about living. To love and be loved.

Maybe it’s me, but the one thing I’ve learned after now twenty-six years, is that the most important birthday gifts we can receive year in and year out is time and love. Or time to love. Or the loving of time. Mishmash those two words in any way you want, the bottom line is this: if we’re very lucky, if we’re very blessed, we will live long, healthy lives celebrating each of the years that tick by with things we love, a self we love, and people we love.

How do I want to remember my twenty-sixth birthday? As the physical manifestation of love. I want this entire next year, and every year after, to be filled with love – love that I can see, that I can hear, that I can taste; love that I can feel physically, emotionally, and mentally.

I want to enjoy every moment I have available to me, and I want to radiate with love. Unconditional, wholesome love.

Do I think that this birthday wish is a lot to ask?

I don’t.

Because my birthday is the remarkable reminder of my existence. It’s the time of year for me to rejoice in my unique self and this one-of-a-kind, once in a lifetime life I get to live.