I dislike looking for birthday cards, particularly those in the “thoughtful caring” section. So many of them talk about “how I feel when I’m with you” or “you make me feel loved” and I think, “how ego-centric.” To say to someone, in this case Nancy, that her value to me lies in how she makes me feel put me in the center of the universe. It also raises the interesting inference that if she didn’t make me feel good, I wouldn’t be giving her a card. Or maybe that I would give her one of the cards focusing on age which are intended to be amusing, but too often aren’t.
So when we want to honor someone, how should we do it? I mean, we could ignore birthdays completely–and some people do. On the other hand, they do have value as a time to recognize some things.
1. Our birthday reminds us that our existence, at least initially, has nothing to do with us. A unique human is the result of two biological people and a Creator. I had nothing to do with my own conception or birth and much of my life. I am dependent on others. And that’s not an unhealthy thing to recognize.
2. A birthday give people a reason to review. Although we can review our lives anytime, our birthday gives us the opportunity (and it is) to ask ourselves what we want to do with the year in front of us that will be more effective than what has come before. Effective is a word I choose as a reminder to do the right things (as opposed to efficient, doing things right). What have I learned that I don’t want to repeat? What have I learned that I want to do again? What have I learned that I need to pass on? What have I learned that matters? Am I willing to admit that I have grown during the past year, that I actually am more mature?
3. A birthday gives other people the opportunity to review us. I don’t mean this in the critical sense, though there are other people who look for every opportunity to identify how we mess up and how messed up we are. However, there are people who, when they say “happy birthday”, are honest. We need these social conventions to give us the opportunity to say, “You matter to me, not just for what you do, though the fresh bread you baked last night is wonderful, but because you exist and though your measure isn’t me, I’m delighted that I get to be part of your life.” This week I have had two people besides Nancy not want anyone to do anything public about their birthday. Their reaction to singing was pretty strong. But it a a time to express affection without the awkwardness of the random expression.
Is it nice to have people randomly wish us well? Yes. But that is really hard for some people. Thus, the birthday, once a year, gives people a safe opportunity to tell us hello, to acknowledge our existence without it being, like, weird.
So today is Nancy’s birthday. Do I like how I feel when I’m with her? Most of the time. Sometimes I’m just grumpy and would rather be alone. Do I like the things she does for us as a family? Absolutely, but that isn’t a measure of her value, but is a demonstration of her love. Am I glad that she came into existence? More than I can ever understand. Did I figure out what card to get?
Um, not til I finished writing this one.