I turned 37 on Tuesday this week, which I celebrated. YES! I love my birthday.
A homemade vanilla cake (thank you again, Mom!) and a delicious dinner with my family; an impromptu dance party in the kitchen; running around outside in hot weather playing a sweaty game of "Monster" with niece and nephew (in which I chase them across the grass, roaring and waving my arms, until I drop - because they don't get tired). Handmade cards with stickers, beautifully wrapped gifts, flowers (freesia! hydrangea! camellia!), bear hugs, singing phone calls, messages via email and voicemail and real mail.
I shamelessly love it all, and I'm not even sorry.
You see, I like getting older. It's a privilege.
Don't you think?
I've directly witnessed many people, in both my personal and professional spheres, who have experienced the death of someone close.
One of my beloved clients worked with me for a year after she unexpectedly lost her husband of 30+ years. "He died too soon," she said. "He had just retired. There was so much he wanted to do!"
One of my friends recently lost a colleague, a woman in her mid-40s who was working for a local tech company and raising three teenagers. My friend felt shocked and angry about this; the woman's death seemed premature and flatly unfair. She said, repeatedly, "How could this happen to someone so young?!"
When my grandfather died in 1993, I was 14. I remember taking a grayish pamphlet from the funeral home called "Grief For Children" that explained why we feel sad when someone dies: it's because we mourn all the things the dead person will no longer get to do - what won't get to happen in the world as a result of their physical absence. I remember bursting into tears at the recognition that Grandpa would miss my high school graduation; he'd miss growing raspberries and walnuts and summer vegetables in the garden; he'd miss giving us chocolate bars and brainteasers and cheerful PB&J parties for all seventeen kids in the neighborhood.
Most of us know the pain of losing someone.
And then there's the national context of gun violence and mass shootings (I think we've had 42 - 42! - so far this year), which we don't need to talk about here. So much trauma. So much loss.
Bereavement, done gracefully, can help us count our blessings. Right? And that's lovely - a strange gift.
But I like to take the appreciation born of bereavement a step farther by consciously choosing to enjoy my birthday. To enjoy getting older. Yes, I'll go ahead and say it: I actually enjoy aging.
It's a privilege.
Maybe it's my wacky wiring, but I remember all the times I've heard things like "She shouldn't have died - she was too young." I remember memorial pine trees being planted for my father's colleague who perished in his early thirties. I remember various article snippets and social media posts I've seen about the ravages of cancer, school shootings, refugees fleeing for their lives, and even 9-11. And I remember the gnawing, hollowed-out ache I felt after my grandpa died.
So, given the reality of loss, why wouldn't I be grateful to age? Am I not wildly lucky to have the chance to get older? Is it not breathtakingly cool to take another trip around the sun?
My brain simply can't hold that genuine awe and participate in our generalized cultural loathing of birthdays.
Therefore, I do not squirm about my age. I don't hide it. And I certainly don't let my birthday pass unnoticed. This can be off-putting, I know. It definitely goes against the grain, particularly for a woman. For example, I announced my birthday to the massage therapist I saw on Tuesday - a total stranger. "Hey Isaac, thanks for the birthday gift! Today I'm 37!!" And oh man, did he look confused! Poor guy.
And believe me - I do get it, dear ones; I understand that wrinkles and freckles and sagging are not necessarily fun. I've already got lower back pain, weird occasional knee twinges, and a shoulder that clicks. I use an "anti-aging" night cream and I spend good money at hair salons to disguise the one gray hair that just appeared yesterday! (That is a joke - my first gray hair said hello at the ripe old age of 25.)
However! Why fuss about these things? Won't these annoyances only occur if I'm lucky enough to have the chance?
The hypocrisy breaks my brain a little. It creates too much cognitive dissonance.
Honestly, I rather like being awake to the fact of loss. I prefer it to illusion. Conveniently, this makes me good at my work, and, fortuitously, it does not make me gloomy or morose. Quite the opposite, based on what I'm told. I enjoy the hell out of my birthdays (and yours, too!).
I'm choosing to be the total weirdo in the room, and that's okay. I'm just fine over here by myself, wearing a paper hat and eating cake, but of course you're totally welcome to join me! We can take a stand (!) and actively celebrate the great fortune of aging (!) by giving each other presents like anti-wrinkle facials and eye cream and whatnot.
Much love, and cake,