I was born on a Sunday, two weeks before Easter. Today, my birthday has come back around to Sunday again, this time a week after Easter. (By the way, thank you to all the well-wishes on Facebook!) Despite the picture I’ve posted here, we won’t be doing a cake with candles. Local ordinances won’t allow that much fire indoors.
Guess you could say that I’m a little more ambivalent about birthdays than I used to be.
Not that I mind a bit of low-key celebration. Today, we’re going to do what I often chose to do on my birthday as a kid–miniature golf. And later, there will be salmon sashimi on the menu (which I would not have chosen as a kid).
But life looks a little different from this end that it did when I was 10.
I think of recent conversations I’ve had with my widowed mother. Many people in retirement, I dare say, view birthdays with a mixture of amusement and suspicion. When one’s “former” life is defined by economic productivity and other temporal measures of meaning, the days pass slowly. Birthdays can be a reminder of one’s ambivalence about the steady march of years toward. . .what?
No, I’m not depressed, just pensive. I am still “productive,” and hope I will be for at least another decade or so. But the word “decade” itself sounds much shorter than it once did. So again, the question: life marches on, but toward what?
One alternative is represented by a soliloquy I once had to memorize from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, who struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. (Act V, Scene 5)
Macbeth, having chosen regicide as his path to power and hearing of his wife’s death, feels caught in the meaninglessness of his life. Like an actor continuing to follow the script of a painfully bad play, he mouths his lines and awaits the final curtain.
The other alternative? Easter. Resurrection. New life in the present, as a promissory note on the future.
The older I get, the more I need birthday celebrations to be filled with a sense of re-birth. True joy comes not from remembering that I was once born into this physical world, but that I have been reborn, made alive spiritually, and that one day, I will be resurrected to a physical world redeemed by God.
Birth is a miracle, and cause for celebration. Rebirth, perhaps, is an even greater miracle, for which the celebration need never end.