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February 20, 2013

Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
Third week of February, 2013

Note: The following essay is not about me or my birthday.
Recent celebrations of the birthdays of others have set me to thinking . . .


It might be said that there is nothing special about a birthday.
Everybody who ever was - is now - or will ever be- gets one.
It’s a universal perk.

And you get a birthday again and again every year you continue to exist – for free.
All you have to do is to be.
And that’s all you had to do to get one in the first place.
It’s not a prize in a contest – everybody is a winner.

In my case I’m told that I showed up late after a medical crisis.
Pulled out into life and the world through Cesarean section.
Apparently I was upset about it - bawling and screaming.
But I had nothing to say at the time.
My agenda was simple: Eat, sleep, and eliminate.
Same for everybody.
What’s to celebrate?

If we were a little more rational about birthday reality, we would celebrate the mother of the person who did nine months hard work to bring a child into being.
At least some flowers and a thank-you card.
Even fathers wouldn’t mind a small gesture of gratitude at the same time.

Sure, I know – some people don’t relate to their parents in a positive way.
That’s a mild way of putting it.
And my parents are long dead, so I don’t have to deal with my feelings about them on my birthday.

But if the relationships are good, then a gesture of gratitude is good.
Really good.

In my case I have a fine relationship with my mother-in-law, and on my wife’s birthday I always acknowledge her mom’s part in giving my wife birth, and for her ongoing part in the life of my wife.
Jayne deserves it – she did well and continues to be a great mom.
I can say I love her and she can say that back – and we both know it’s true.

My gesture not only results in a warm relationship with her, but it gets me an ongoing supply of the best dill pickles in the world and a box of pecan brittle from time to time.

At times in the past, on my birthday, I have written to thank important figures in my life who were part of what I think of as a re-birth.
Those who were there for me in troubled times and helped me get my wheels back on the track of my ongoing life.
I’m grateful, and I want them to know it.

As to attitudes toward celebrating birthdays:
I have friends who are so opposed to having any attention on the anniversary of their birth that it’s almost as if they are in the denial about being born at all.
They never mention their birthdays or age.
They don’t want any presents or cards or calls or acknowledgement.
So they say . . .

At the other end of the spectrum there are those whose birthday is well known and who throw an annual party, inviting everybody they know. 
They make it clear that presents are part of the party, and the presents damn well better be good ones.
No ambiguity.
One of them always calls and says, “I’ve survived another year. Let’s get it on!”
And we do.

Of course, there’s every possibility you can think of in between those positions.
The birthday deal rarely seems simple or easy.
More often a mine-field to be negotiated than a simple party to attend.

Every culture has its own birthday traditions.
The only one I’m directly familiar with is the style of the Cretan Greeks.
At birth, every Greek gets a name honoring a saint.
Everybody with that same saint’s name is celebrated on the saint’s day.
Every Maria, every Alexander, every Dimitri, and on down the list.
If it’s your saint’s day, your job is to stay home, provide lots of food and drink, and wait for all your friends to drop in and wish you well.
If it’s a popular saint’s day, then the traffic gets fierce from home to home and celebrant to celebrant.

If your name is the same as your father’s and his father and his father before him, as is often the case – then the day becomes an all-out all-day whoopee.
In a way, it’s nice – the culture is in control and you just go with the flow.

My position is that however you want to celebrate your birthday is just fine.

Your only real obligation is to be clear about it – up front and in advance.

Those who are wimpy-wobblers about their birthdays are a pain in the butt.

The worst is the person who gives out a devious message:

“I don’t want to do anything or have anything done for my birthday.”
“But you’d better not forget it or forget to say or do something.”
“And you should read my mind to know what I want to do and get.”

People who operate that gamy way deserve what they get.
Whatever it is, it’s usually not what they wanted, anyway.
What they really crave is authentic love and sincere affection.
And their way is not the way they’ll ever get what they want and need.

My favorite attitude toward birthdays comes from the magic mind of Lewis Carroll, as described in his book, Through the Looking Glass.
It’s the idea of an un-birthday.
The celebration of someone when it’s not their birthday.

This was delightfully illustrated in Walt Disney’s 1951 animated film, Alice In Wonderland, during the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, complete with song and music performed by teapots.

At an un-birthday, no rules or expectations apply.
As long as you are affirming somebody, anything goes.
Serious or comic, short or long, with presents or not.
An un-birthday can be a complete surprise.
In fact, it’s best that way.

Consider - there are 364 opportunities for un-birthdays every year.
Un-birthday parties are especially successful for people who have negative feelings about their birthday or presents or age.
You can fully respect their issues, and at the same time simply say you like them or love them or care about them and want to celebrate that.
What harm?

Or – you can instigate an un-birthday yourself – with friends and family.
Surprise them.
Or - you can have an un-birthday alone – surprise and celebrate yourself.
Why not?
What harm?

Birthdays do carry a lot of problematic baggage.
I’ll give you that.

But un-birthdays have great promise and possibility.
I offer you that.