Our family celebrated birthdays over the weekend and though we didn’t celebrate my birthday, I thought about how fast birthdays seem to be coming. I remember birthdays going so “slow” as a child. It seemed like years between 12 and 13 years old and decades between 17 and 18 years old. Of course, I felt like I had lived a century by the time my 21st birthday finally arrived.
Since then, my birthdays seemed to have gradually picked up “speed.” It’s kind of like that 3 pounds a year I gained between 30 and 50 years old. Imperceptible one year at a time, but shockingly obvious 20 years down the road. Now the birthdays are coming so fast I can still taste last year’s birthday cake.
The 24 hours of each day that I experienced at 15 years old is still the same 24 hours I experience today. But now each day has more meaning because of what I’ve experienced along the way. At 15, my biggest stress was finishing my Geometry homework. Now I have my cholesterol, my financial future, my children and dozens of other things to worry about. But the biggest difference, is now I contemplate my pain and my losses and it puts a completely different spin on what’s truly important in my life.
I realize that every birthday brings me closer to the end of my life but I don’t have fear or sadness around that. I accept the reality that we all have a limited amount of time in this world. Birthdays remind me that I have unfinished work to do, people to love and appreciate, amends to make and a “bucket list” to chip away at. The pain and losses I’ve experienced create a sense of urgency in my life and remind me that the most important thing is to spend time with people who are important in my life. It’s apparent to me that at some point I won’t be able to visit a sick friend or classmate, talk to my nieces and nephews on the telephone, hold the little babies that are yet to arrive, tell my children I love them or even have control over my bodily functions. But I’m not paranoid about this.
I’m actually a little disappointed at the end of each day if I don’t connect with someone who means something to me (even if it’s just the plants in my yard because my grandma taught me their alive). With a third of my life over, I don’t want to waste precious days in front of the television or grumbling about things I can’t change. We all have so much power to influence people’s lives in a positive way but we don’t often take advantage of that. Putting love out in the world is the reason we were all sent here in the first place.
One of the organizational techniques that I’ve learned over my professional career is “to begin with the end in mind,” and work backward from there. Having a clear vision of the “desired outcome” brings enormous clarity to the steps needed to achieve it. Since we all have the same end, maybe we ought to “work backward” to this very point and figure out what we need to do to be happy and peaceful about our lives once it’s over. And since we can go at any time, every single day becomes hugely important. Even if I’m fortunate to live another 25 years, at the speed these birthdays are coming, it’s going to be over quick.
Another birthday is approaching and another one is right behind it. I have to call someone today. I have to hug someone today. I’m going to tell the cashier at the grocery store that I appreciate them. I’m going to call my son and tell him I love him.
I think chocolate cake sounds good this year.