Saturday, March 19, 2011

Every Birthday is a Good Birthday

Most people are downright jealous of my age, I've realized this past week. I’m thirty. I remember thinking that when I was thirty, I would have built my own house with my own hands, won an Oscar, published several books, birthed a dozen children, and retired.

I have fallen only slightly short of these goals.

Women who have passed this landmark only the tiniest bit shy of their own goals tell me how young I look and how much I’ve done. They say this with one eye twitching, like they are trying to peer past the envy and say something - anything - that will help me avoid one second of worrying these inane standards I’ve set for myself. The other eye looks with the wisdom of an extra few years and the compassion that the extra ounces of wisdom bring.

Younger women are wide-eyed, looking on in horror that the next dial will click over. They cannot imagine stepping beyond the twenties, because The Twenties are all about Being Very Successful and they have Things to Do before the next click. For them, life is no longer about possibility, but about the responsibility of being a modern woman who can have her cake and eat it too. A woman who is expected to have and do it all. Secretly, maybe, they look forward to The Thirties, when they anticipate early retirement having made their first billion by twenty whatever.

Last year a woman in my office was diagnosed with breast cancer and for quite awhile the prognosis was grim. We made meals and sent flowers and thanked our own lucky stars that this time we were on this side of the casseroles and carnations. She pulled through, rallied right when we thought it was The End, and we celebrated her birthday last summer. When we sang the last note of our markedly rousing rendition of happy birthday her smile shined brighter than the dryness of her skin, or the bleakness of her wisps of fuzzy peach hair. I saw, possibly for the first time in my life, a woman aging gracefully, a radiant woman as excited to cut her cake as any five year old. She said one sentence that has rattled around in my brain ever since, “Every birthday is a good birthday.”

I’m not sure that is true for everyone, because so many of my friends are fighting the advance of that clock, but it is true for me.

For me, thirty is an accomplishment: another lap around the sun, a list of near misses in traffic, health scares, Important Decisions, new experiences, new lives, and lives lost. It probably came with a few more grey hairs, but I’ve grown accustomed to them by now.

We can fear the click, we can hide from it or deny it, but we can’t stop it. We can radically embrace it. We can face up to a new challenge: outshining our birthday candles.

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