Birthdays are on my mind.
My husband’s arrived a few days ago, and mine is soon to follow, next month. Pisces and Aries, if anyone is curious. A little fish and a big ram. I stopped reading my horoscope years ago, but still, that sounds like the oddest of couples, don’t you think?
Nevertheless, this big ram wanted to make a meaningful moment for her little fish on his birthday morning. Because as much as I talk here about creating my own meaningful adventures, sometimes we experience the very essence of meaning when we do it for someone else.
So after I nagged gently coaxed Dave along to an early bedtime (Honey, you do look tired, and you want to feel rested for your birthday, don’t you?), I slipped out of the house and made a quick trip to the local market.
I filled my shopping basket with flowers, a silly singing card, his favorite coffee and breakfast foods, and a little balloon on a stick. The stick balloon was an unexpected addition, providing a bit of whimsy as it hovered gamely above the vase of flowers.
Back at home, I carefully staged it all on the kitchen counter, to be discovered by Dave when he awoke.
It worked its magic. An experience of meaning for both of us, giver and receiver.
And Dave felt special. Because that’s how we’re supposed to feel on our birthdays, right? Or is it?
OK, here’s where the story turns. But don’t worry, the turn isn’t about Dave and his birthday. That day unfolded quite nicely.
No, the turn is about the larger meaning of our birthdays. And what, exactly, it is that we’re celebrating.
For a long time I thought birthdays were all about special. In the spotlight. Red-letter days. Cake and candles. Make a wish. Gifts. The works. What else could they be about? I even went so far as to proclaim that no one should have to work on their birthday, if at all possible.
Until a few years ago, I didn’t question any of it. But as I approached a milestone birthday, something shifted.
All around me my peers were celebrating their own milestone birthdays in big ways. Lavish parties. Dinner for 100. Live music. Dancing until dawn.
Don’t get me wrong. All that can be really fun. And I’m not a stick in the mud. But as I contemplated my own big celebration, I found myself resisting. In the end I decided to go to Tucson instead, rent a house with a pool, and spend the week swimming, journaling, reading, hiking, and stargazing above the wildflowers-in-bloom desert.
On the day itself, I walked out into the desert and performed a ritual. I scraped a rough mandala in the dirt, filled it with rocks, buried a few drawings around its outer edges, and set fire to some of my writings. It signified letting go and moving on for me, and although it sounds a bit dramatic, it was actually pretty low-key.
In it he discusses the danger of inflation, a kind of puffing ourselves up, a distorted sense of who we are. He cautions that there is always a price to pay with inflation, because “every inflation is followed by a deflation, and then the hot air balloon comes crashing down. A deflation is thinking and acting as if you are less than you really are, a feeling of not-enoughness.”
It occurred to me then that my hesitation to throw a big, blow-out birthday party was perhaps a way to skirt the too-muchness/not-enoughness, inflation/deflation cycle that we’ve all experienced at one time or anther. And wouldn’t you know it, I had my answer a few chapters later, when I came upon this passage about the gift of ordinariness:
Oddly enough, birthdays and holidays are among the most depressing times of the year for many people. One reason is that we turn them into celebrations of our specialness. Today we need celebrations of ordinariness…You too can share the gift of ordinariness. On the next birthday, substitute ordinariness for the desire to be special. This could be as simple as pulling weeds in the garden, straightening your closet, performing a service for someone else, or making a basket of paper flowers. Keep your expectations low and your contentment high.
As I closed the book I knew immediately that I wanted to scrap my plans for dinner out to celebrate my birthday. We ate leftover spaghetti instead. And went to see a movie. It turned out to be one of the more meaningful, yet ordinary, birthdays I’d had.
And I’ve never thought of my birthday in the same way since.
What do you think?
How do you create meaning on your birthday? And does it make sense to celebrate our ordinariness on that day?
WHY NOT START NOW?