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Why the heck would anyone want to celebrate a birthday? Certain religions forbid it. As I understand it (and maybe I don’t), the reason involves not glorifying the individual. Many people choose to pretend birthdays don’t exist—as though ignoring the annual event prevents the years lived from piling up. One friend of mine told me in her family they just don’t bother with birthdays.
Granted, sometimes the hoopla of birthdays doesn’t seem to make much sense. For example, I can’t justify the enormous expense many people embrace to produce an extravaganza for a baby who’s so young that the strange sights and sounds are terrifying. If the baby remembers anything, it’s likely to be sensory overload. Likewise, I can’t help but feel sorry for the centenarians+ who are intellectually impaired by progressive disease, but they’re still tortured with a huge celebration they cannot comprehend or enjoy. In both these cases, the party is for the party-givers who don’t seem to care if they frighten the “honored” one or not.
Some people hate birthdays because no one celebrates. Automatic depression! They think they don’t matter. I’m one of those idealists who believe EVERYONE matters. A birthday is an occasion when you’re permitted to ask people around you to notice that you exist, to notice the unique goodness about you, and to honor the fact that you’re a part of their world. I just marked my birthday, and I shamelessly broadcast the news on social media. Now and then we all need support, and on a birthday you’re allowed to ask for it. Birthdays pull groups such as families or co-workers or friends together and give them an excuse to be happy for a while—with or without the cake.
As long as you ignore all the ageist nonsense in advertising, counting birthdays is a way to remind yourself that you have only so much time in your body. So, if you want something in particular to happen, you had better get busy laying the groundwork. In contrast, if you listen to the ageist nonsense, you’re easily convinced that you’re walking a tightrope above deterioration and oblivion, so you might as well submit to decrepitude.
The truth is a person who eats well, moves around a lot (the word “exercise” carries dark P.E. class connotations for me), stays connected with loved ones (not necessarily family), and follows whatever piques his or her curiosity will probably live a satisfying life and die according to a schedule that might have been predetermined by biology or something more Divine. Today, a huge number of people who’ve lived six decades or more refuse to accept the old ideas about what an older person has to be. They enjoy every phase of life and thumb their noses at those who bemoan every new wrinkle. (Now if only we could convince the advertisers to stop insulting us!)
I look forward to my birthday each year and the cards and gifts and laughing with people who care about me. I’m not afraid of death as long as I’ve done my best at living.