I recently stared down another birthday and tossed a glass of champagne at it. You could call that my 21 done salute. Everyone else in
So, I am not adverse to birthdays. I just think of every year after 40 as value added tax.
Actually, I feel proprietary about the day I call my own, especially when I have to wait 364 days to get it back. I stubbornly want it to stand out from the ordinary ones spent in a cubicle or having the brakes checked. A Tibetan monk once complained to me that Americans make too big a deal over birthdays. I did not remind him that other people around the planet celebrate his guru’s with long life prayers and cake too because birthdays matter. Even to Buddhists.
I think birthdays are a big deal because they are the deal. They’re the anniversary of our coming out, and that moment of our debut was no haphazard accident. It was the first show of the take-out karma we brought with us and are stuck with as our own weapon of mess destruction. Ask the Chinese, the Greeks or Google 5,000 years worth of horoscopes and astrological predictions. A Capricorn is not a Gemini, a Monkey is not a Pig and Type-A has way too much nervous energy to be an old soul. I am always stunned –no, make that frightened-- by the pinpoint personality accuracy of the late Joan Quigley’s Astrology for Adults. Did you know those born under the influence of planets around 1942 were destined to make music? Think Dylan,
Birthdays also seem to arrange cosmic feng shui or maybe they’re just magnetic pull, because looking back, I see my life’s most influential events all clustered in the immediate vicinity of mine. Days before or after it, I bought my two most life-changing houses, met all three great loves, first went to
The mystical Hebrew Kabala says if you meet someone who shares your exact day and hour of birth, they will bring you a message. Since I first heard about this, I have tried to be a heat seeking missile that would strike my cosmic twin. Alas, I am still striking out, because most people don’t know what hour they were born. Even when they do, the whole confusing algebra of time zones is impossible to reckon with, and determining the simultaneous moment seems key. My day and year birthday mate, the handsome Venetian Renzo, only left messages about where to meet him after work. The saleswoman Janice, born in
As a teenager I used to wonder if there was a message in being born on Elvis Presley’s birthday when he soaked up so much attention. But as I aged, I realized the message was: I have discriminating wisdom. Having come out as quickly as I did, I spared myself being born after midnight and stuck sharing my day with Richard Nixon. For everyone, my birth day was the happier one.
Happy is the point of birthdays, isn’t it? Everyone is supposed to give you presents or take you to lunch. Friends flood the mail with cheery cards. Employers give you the day off. Restaurants feed you for free or at least send out a surprise cupcake with a candle in it. This year the gate agent for United, hearing my flight had been cancelled without warning, treated me to First Class on another one. For one brief shining moment, everybody wants you to be happy. Happy birthday to you.
Of course, happiness, like everything else, changes. My first birthdays just needed ice cream and cake or not losing at musical chairs to be happy. It helped at six to get a doll coach big as a baby’s. Sixteen needed the spice of glitz and guys to go with a driver’s license, twenty-one a drink in public without worry about being carded. O to be carded now! My 30s had some trips south to a palmy beach, 40 was a family affair and the big five uh-oh was celebrated at a round table surrounded by my oldest friends, people who knew me before I was 21 and had not cried uncle yet. By then, almost everything in the world had changed except those familiar faces, so celebrating loyalty and longevity made me happy.
This year, I went off to spend the first half of my day with two remaining older family members, my maternal aunt and uncle, married almost 65 years. My uncle is on the cusp of 90 with two new knees and, although she still shows no gray hair and dresses fashionably, my aunt is en route to 86. I interrupted their schedule: yoga, email, a two-mile walk, a university class, an appointment to upgrade computer skills. “You have to keep moving,” my aunt warned, “mentally and physically.” This made me recall her mother, my grandmother who died days short of 98, warning me never to look back but always forward to something new. Seeing my life’s most familiar faces one more time, and looking forward to maybe having such resiliency, resourcefulness and genes made me very happy.
I spent the end of the day with a man and a woman half my age—two of my favorite human beings. An older friend once confessed his mother advised him to make younger friends so as he aged and his contemporaries disappeared, he’d still have people to be with. He’d stay in touch. As he sadly reminded me recently, except for me, he didn’t follow the advice, but I sure did. These two thirty-somethings met each other through me and have since become such close friends, together they planned an evening for me at a restaurant they decided I would like. That they volunteered to be with an old lady when they could’ve been more with it made me very happy.
So I was dismayed to come home to find I would now have to share my day with a 15-year-old from luxurious
Unhappiness appears to be the new plague but I don’t think we should rush to blame the planets. The next day the page two story claimed 80% of 18-25 year olds think getting rich is life’s top goal. Several paragraphs down the title of a professor’s new book was mentioned: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before.
The good news--in time for my birthday--was in the paper of record, coming from the other coast. The economy that exists to find a need and fill it-- the people who brought us harvest gold appliances, six gazillion thread count sheets, A-lists, e-commerce, iPod, Oprah and UTube -- is now going to bring us happiness. There are life coaches working as happiness trainers (You vil be happy!). An accredited university offers a seminar called Happiness 101 and a board certified shrink is figuring out algorithm-like formulas guaranteed to produce it for you every time, like a web page. Or you can just wallpaper your room with Smileys.
The Buddha was of course the original life fitness coach who understood that every human being is a missile desperately seeking happiness. But he was very clear it wasn’t going to be found in the phone book. “No situation can become favorable,” a guru said, “until you are able to adapt to it and don’t wear yourself out with mistaken resistance.”
As it happens, life is a situation. On my actual day of birth a diamond was bought for me and I was carried “home” to a mansion that had cooks and maids and a chauffeur polishing the Cadillac in the garage. That house had
Along my way beyond 25, the happiness of my birthday changed from things to beings: being the connection to others which makes me happy to be alive, and being unsqueamishly my age and thus alive. Frankly, it has to be a miracle or at least a message that I survived myself and am still here—unabridged, unpreserved and unbridled to boot. Every birthday means I am closer to winning the real reality show of survivor.
And so champagne. Nothing extraordinary happened on my birthday but it was extraordinary. Others remembered I am still here and volunteed to show this matters through phone calls, emails, dinners and birthday cards. How they ever found great cards mystifies me. My shopping safari never yields treasures like these:
The height of cleverness is being able to conceal it.
May your day be as special as you are.
Happy birthday to a wonderful friend.
A diamond is a chunk of coal that made good under pressure. Happy birthday to a real gem.
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”
It’s not where but how you celebrate.”
Technorati Tags: Yours In The Dharma, Sandy Garson, Dharma, Buddhist, Buddhism, Spirituality, Religion