On Birthdays

Birthdays evoke emotions that vary across the lifespan.

Posted Jun 30, 2020

Ylanite Koppens, Pexels, Public Domain
Source: Ylanite Koppens, Pexels, Public Domain

As a 1- to 3-year-old, a birthday party can be overstimulating and overwhelming. Parents may stage the event as much to show that they’re good parents as to please their child.

An older child is more likely to welcome the attention on their special day, not to mention the gifts. I’m not crazy about gorging kids with store-bought presents, which primes them for an over-materialistic lifestyle, but I’ll leave those curmudgeonly thoughts for another day.

In adulthood, “It’s the thought that counts” may outweigh the gifts. Getting a number of heartfelt cards can feel more comforting than one big present. 

Some adults start to devalue birthdays. One friend said, “I don’t deserve any credit on my birthday. Everyone gets a birthday, whether you’re magnificent or a miscreant.”

As people get older, birthdays, especially big ones, are reminders of mortality. At 40, 50, or even 60, those thoughts can be helpful drivers to accomplish while you can. Also, it's usually possible to suppress such pesky thoughts. But at 70 and beyond, denial won’t work ... or maybe it can, maybe it should. Of course, life’s conveyor belt is acceleratingly groaning toward its end, with the inevitable mental and physical declines, often accompanied by increasing pains and torturous treatments in attempts to add more years of quality. So, at 70+, other than succession and estate planning, it may be wise to be the Queen of Denial, and to squeeze out as much productivity and pleasure as possible.

I turned 70 today. Clearly, few people will spend their birthday in the weird way I am, but it may contain embedded lessons for us all. which will be listed in the next paragraph. I began as I do every day in May and June, hybridizing roses. It normally requires a decade between the day you cross two roses and the day that the best one among thousands becomes commercially available. So it's quite a statement of optimism for a 70-year-old to be crossing roses. But in recognition that I may not be around then, this morning I turned to musing on how I could find a trainee, one for my hybridizing, one for my career counseling. I’ve been doing both for more than 30 years and it would be kind of sad to see all that expertise go to the grave. It will be comforting to pass it on to the next generation. Then I saw clients and wrote this blog post. Next, I’ll be performing a free, short piano concert that will be streamed live. (Update 7/1/20: Here's the video of it.) Finally, having insisted that my wife doesn’t throw me a surprise party, we’ll just enjoy my favorite dessert (apple pie, not birthday cake) and then continue binge-watching Downton Abbey.

How might the previous paragraph be instructive?

  • Proceed with your life but make succession plans to enhance your legacy, whether it's to pass on your career expertise, ensure that your will leaves your money where it will do the most good, or simply to spend more time mentoring your grandkids.
  • Celebrate birthdays in your own way. Want a blow-out party? Fine. Want no party, not even a birthday cake? Fine too. In my case, I enjoy performing, so I decided to play a little concert.
  • Even if you’re no techie, be open to valuable technology. I had never used Facebook Live but seeing how, especially in Era COVID, it’s become so popular, I decided to try it. But rather than risk it not working, I did consult with someone. So, now, while being COVID-safe, anyone can "attend" the concert any time they want.

The takeaway

Birthdays, like most things, can be frittered or used wisely, both to practical and emotional benefit. How might you like to spend your next birthday?

I read this aloud on YouTube.