The Days are long — The Years are Short — Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
I celebrated another birthday a couple of days ago — my 66th. Where do the years go? Gretchen Rubin’s comment ‘The days are long — the years are short’ rings in my ears as I think of how quickly the years passed. The birthday and the rituals of its celebration reminded me of the importance of living each day to its fullest doing things you love to do, and doing them with passion. In short, celebrating life at every opportunity by making those ‘long’ days count.
Several friends called me on my birthday. I also received many emails with good wishes. My husband, our son and his fiance took me out for drinks and dinner. There were presents, cards and toasts. I was honoured and I basked in the warmth of family.
Some retired people no longer celebrate birthdays
Interestingly, some people I spoke with on my birthday were surprised that I was celebrating. They remarked that they had stopped celebrating birthdays because recognizing the passing years meant facing the fact that they were growing older.
One person said that she had stopped celebrating because she did not feel worthy of the fuss or the number of candles that would be needed on a birthday cake. She felt that she had had too many birthdays. I might be able to understand this perspective if she had suffered a loss or a trauma associated with her birthday but this is not the case. She is a lovely giving person who simply feels inconsequential. How sad!
Friends were even more surprised that I spoke of my age with pride. I heard confessions that they no longer revealed their age to others. People wondered why I would broadcast my age as it signalled that I was growing older!
Some people celebrate only the start of a new decade
One of my neighbours who came to Canada from Hong Kong told me that in traditional Chinese culture people celebrate 60 as a milestone birthday that completes the first part of the life cycle. After age 60, birthdays are celebrated only every ten years with the celebrations getting more elaborate with each decade.
This is an interesting custom but not one I want to adopt. I don’t want to miss a year. Each year counts much more as the numbers increase and I begin to feel the weight of elderhood.
Favourite Birthday Memories
I don’t pretend to remember every one of my 66 birthdays. In the busy parenting years, I know that birthdays were celebrated at soccer tournaments — in pizza shops, in hotel rooms after games and once in the clubhouse after a Northeastern Huskies game. In other years, there were surprise parties, bar crawls (when I was much younger), and celebrations at the beach. During business trips I sometimes celebrated with colleagues, including one birthday when there was a champagne toast on the shores of James Bay — finding champagne in the remote Ontario community of Moosonee must have been a feat! Occasionally my husband planned a special trip or gave me a special piece of jewellry on the occasion of the ‘big’ numbers — 40, 50. 60………
There were also birthdays marked with elements of sadness. One year we had just moved across the country from Western Canada to Montreal to start graduate school and my birthday happened in the midst of moving crates in a cramped student apartment — no friends, no family and no money for dinner in a restaurant. There was also the time when my mother-in-law died just a few days before my birthday and that birthday was overshadowed with the freshness of grief. Nonetheless, the day was marked with hope. No flowers or cakes or toasts — just a few moments of silence to remember an exceptional person.
The commonality in these memories is that the birthday is recognized and observed as a special day — a day to validate my place in the world.
‘It takes a long time to become young’
This wonderful quote, attributed to Picasso, helps me to remember why each birthday counts. As I face the third act in my own life I am resolved that my age won’t get in the way of living a full life. I will use the lessons of 66 years to keep transforming myself, to keep learning and to keep living everyday to its fullest.
I will continue to celebrate every birthday with gusto. It is my way of honouring life and affirming the gifts of each passing year.
Photo by en:User:fir0002