It’s funny how some people react to your birthday.
My dad’s first comment to me today was, “You’re getting pretty old ain’t ya?” And only after a moment of realizing what he had just said outside his head did he decide to follow that up with, “Happy birthday.”
My mom on the other hand is buzzing around like a bee dipped in honey. She’s excited as can be to get the special lunch on the grill and cooking. We usually go out to a restaurant of my choice, which almost always means one of two things: Chicken or a Mexican dinner.
But, times are strange, and due to my father’s age and health, my health and not knowing what COVID-19 might do to any of us, we’re locked down together. We’ve been locked in since all this started. Marking holidays in new, more simple ways.
But this is the first birthday during the pandemic for us.
The other thing that’s kind of strange about birthdays is how some people respond to your age with an almost hint of condescension. “That isn’t old!” They say, “Wait till you’re my age.”
I get it, you’re old. I mean, older than me. But here’s the thing, I’ve never been 36 before. I need time to adapt to all these danged years piling up like an avalanche behind me.
All that said, let’s get into this. This one’s going to be a bit more personal than usual, but don’t worry, I’m going to keep it interesting with some quirky stories and sometimes serious life lessons along the way.
I miss my grandmother
As I sat on the front porch this morning studying the thin layer of mist hugging the low lying areas of the little holler I live in, my mind turned inward. My mind went deep, thinking about life, love, loss. I was a bit more reflective than usual, birthdays do that to the best of us.
Sitting there, in my favorite spot on the swing, I couldn’t help but miss my grandmother. She was a part of every birthday, and never once missed one with a big hug and kiss.
Her special thing was the pictures she colored. She loved coloring pictures. She was never big on painting, but she could work magic with her collection of markers, crayons, and colored pencils.
And every birthday, she would always have one specially colored for me.
Just before she passed away, she filled a whole scrapbook with a collection of her art just for me. It’s one of my treasures now.
Some people talk about things changing their lives forever, but they don’t entirely mean it or understand the scope of such a statement. When my grandmother died, I learned the painful depths of that statement, of its truest meaning. Life, for me and my family, changed in ways I could have never predicted.
Before she passed away, my grandmother said something to me that remains the single most powerful thing anyone has ever said to me. She looked me in the eye, gave a grin, and said, “We’re more than family, we’re friends.”
Here’s your first life lesson: Love is the most powerful legacy any of us can hope to leave behind.
I am grateful
I don’t like admitting this, but, I’m living with my folks and have been for a little while now. That’s a whole other story, but it’s turned out to be a hidden blessing since the pandemic hit. I didn’t have to isolate myself from them for fear of bringing something in, and didn’t have to worry about not being able to be around them should they need help.
For better or worse, my folks and I are all locked in together.
That said, my birthday is a gentle, but very potent reminder, of all that I do have. The bond and companionship I share with my mom and dad. The friendship, as my grandmother described it, that flows between us. The special lunch mom is excited to cook. My dad with his jokes about my age.
These are treasures that no amount of money could ever rival, replace, or equal.
And what’s more, those pictures my grandmother used to make for me? My mom carried the legacy on a little further this morning. I found a hand-drawn picture with perfect details matching some of my favorite critters from the yard to a tee. She colored it just as my grandmother had colored so many before it, and then she carefully placed it on the floor knowing my routine and that I would soon discover it.
Here’s your second lesson: These simple acts are the bedrock, in my most humble of opinions, to a life well-lived.
I am more aware of time
Something else I can’t quite shake today, and it’s probably more than partly due to the pandemic: I sense the presence of time more heavily than I had before.
I fear the shortening of my days, that inevitable truth that clings to each of us like a shadow always keeping up. Time is running out. Time will eventually run out altogether.
The crazy thing is that life is both incredibly short and yet, as I look back over the stretch of years that led up to this specific moment, I realize just how long it can be too. It really is all relative I suppose. But none of that helps me as I begin to lean too heavily in the future and feel the bite of worry sink its teeth in.
It’s all winding down. It will all eventually run out. Is there a scarier thought?
There is a way to resist such worry. Shift your thoughts back to the reality you’re living in. When you really stop to consider it, there is no other moment but now. We’re caught in its bubble, and always sliding along our timelines in this present moment, no matter how many years stack against us, or how few days ahead pull us to the clearing at the end of the path — whatever may come next.
Here’s your third life lesson: Learn to ground yourself in this present moment. When you’re worried you’re ignoring what you already have.
What if I don’t get to…
Similarly, not only am I thinking about time and all its pull on mind, body, and soul, I find myself wondering if I’ll get to do everything I want to. If I’ll get to accomplish the things I most want to accomplish.
I bought a new journal at the beginning of the month. I’m absolutely loving it. It fits me like a glove, it focuses on action-driven goal setting, habit tracking, reflection. If you’ve read my stuff, you know by now, these are all the things I’m a big fan of.
There was one section in the journal that, truth be told, I still haven’t quite filled out. There’s a spot for a three-month bucket list.
I love this idea, but how the heck do you plan for, much less follow through on, a bucket list during the pandemic?
I suppose some of my concerns along these lines, combined with the self-awareness of aging and the reality of the pandemic, I sense apprehension about my ambition. Just how much can I get accomplished in whatever time I have left? What things might I never get to see? What things might I never get to experience?
But you know what? none of that matters. Love is the greatest legacy, and I have loved and been loved. And the best way to defeat worry about the future is to ground yourself in the present, right?
Here’s your fourth life lesson: Do the best you can with what you have. It won’t ever be enough, but if you shift your thinking from just the doing to the becoming, you might surprise yourself at all the amazing things you can experience with your life.
Simplicity rules the day
So, while my 36th birthday might not be the fanciest, or celebrated by a gathering of friends, it is more than enough to celebrate what I do have. Family, love, and these present moments.
Simplicity enriches life by stripping things down to their most basic truths. That’s the real gift of the day. The pandemic is teaching me the power of simple joys, and doubly so on my birthday this year.
The truth is, no matter what, this birthday will be one I will never forget. How could I?
More importantly, and here’s your fifth life lesson: Never forget all the ones who didn’t get to live to see their next celebration.
And there you have it, what it’s like turning 36 in a pandemic. Some things are no different, and some things will never be forgotten they’re so unexpected. That’s just life right now.
But going deeper, the real takeaway is that no matter what the years bring or take, be grateful. Be glad, find things to laugh about, and remember this, if nothing else: Love is the greatest legacy.