American culture, having turned over from social justice to narcissism, has now become a fertile field for the self-glorification that attends many birthdays. Like the cavalcading grades of iPhones, this one is “better” than that one; here is a “milestone” event and there is “just another one.”
I’m so gratified today that my birthday is—at least within me—as quiet as the peace of acceptance and the relief I feel from vanities.
The anniversary of my arrival in this world—to which I was the most indirect party—is not “a milestone one” today. Not according to the banalities of birthdays with round numbers or even those that numerically end with ‘5.’ So ironic: at whatever age a person dies, the numerology doesn’t quantify the momentousness. John F. Kennedy was 46; Martin King, 39; my mother, 81; a precious girl (my congregant) who succumbed years ago to cystic fibrosis, 17. These were all undeniable milestones that were clocked in time, not numerology.
So I’m thinking that every birthday, every day, is a milestone—especially in a world that has reduced us all into digital situations, screen ID’s, Social Security numbers, and cyber “profiles.” Every day that you have some idea of who you are is a good day; nobody even knows your phone number anymore because it’s been crushed into a push-button “Contact” on a cellular device.
Please don’t misunderstand: in no way do I begrudge the indulgence of anyone else on the occasion of his or her birthday. It is one’s privilege to portray one’s life and values as seen fit. Meanwhile, I adore and fete my loved ones at their birthdays—they are the only assets that matter, anyway.
But I am pleased and satisfied that within me there grows a real desire to skip past my birthday in any outward, public, or materialistic sense. I was born without a penny and I will die wrapped in shrouds that have no pockets. While the whole cycle of life used to mesmerize me, feed my self-importance, and cause me to flail with expectations, it all just gives me a quiet sense of comfort now. All the rivers run to the sea.
My favorite sermon from my spiritual mentor, M.L. King, was not delivered from the Lincoln Memorial or adjacent to the Alabama State Capitol following his brave march from Selma in 1965. Speaking from his own pulpit in Atlanta just weeks before his assassination in 1968, King suddenly ruminated that “Every now and then, I think about my own funeral.” He admonished his congregants that “if you get somebody to speak that day, tell him not to speak too long…tell him not to mention my awards…tell him not to mention that I didn’t have a lot of money. Just have him mention that (I) tried to help somebody along the way.”
I’m so gratified today that my birthday is—at least within me—as quiet as the peace of acceptance and the relief I feel from vanities. I have long forgiven my enemies and have basically forgotten what the fusses were all about. My parents are gone and I have buried their inadequacies and mistakes along with them. I have no need to be well-known to anyone but the few who love me and the others who befriend me with genuine invitations to share the wine of their pain and joy. I judge no one and expect little from organized religion and a lot from the spirituality of inclusiveness that cured me long ago of theological elitism.
It feels good and I’m not afraid of anything. That’s the only gift I really ever needed.