Chapter 10 : Itís My Party and Iíll Cry If I Want To
November 23, 1998

Why is it that once a year, we choose to reflect back upon the past, what we have accomplished to date, and worry about the choices and decisions we have made? On the same day, each year, the day earmarked by our arrival into the world, we choose to do this. But most of the time, the rest of our lives, we donít so much as blink.

Reflection seems to happen on days of traumatic change. I can remember breaking up with a girlfriend, I sat and looked back at the time we had spent together. I played music - even put together a complilation tape. I moped around my room, and smoked a couple of packs of cigarettes while drawing down a beer or two. And then I wrote a poem.

When a friend of mine died, I found out at about 11 pm on a weeknight. Jeff called me to tell me that the funeral was the next day in Pittsburgh. Doug is dead? He had been my college roommate before he left school and eventually transferred. I hadnít seen him for a couple of years, never having tracked his latest address down. I dictated a eulogy over the phone to Jeff and asked him to lay it on the coffin for me at the cemetary because, of all things, I had to go to work the next day.

But when my son was born, I didnít reflect on the past, but on the future. What we would be doing together. How I could bring him to soccer practice, teach him to ride a bike, hopefully raise him as well as my parents raised me.

So on a birthday, what is it that makes us look back instead of forward to the next year and what we plan to accomplish? Maybe itís the passing of time, the realization that time has continued on, that we have moved forward. And in recognizing that, we need to validate just what we have done with that time. I need to prove I was productive. I need to show accomplishments. I need to show that my life has been heading somewhere and I have not just fruitlessly wasted the time I have had.

For of all things, it could end tomorrow. For all things a birthday should bring us, it reminds us of our ever-present mortality. It reminds us that time does pass by. That it passes in these convenient little snippets of time called a year that the Romans, Pope Gregory XIII, or whatever other calendar culled from the lunar cycles and placed upon us, is irrelevant. Just as most other measures in our world, it only serves to compartmentilize and structure an otherwise free-flowing succession of seasons and time for our meager understanding.

But what it has done has afforded us the opportunity to have a particular day that we can use to measure our progress from the past, as well as project out on how much Ďtimeí we have wasted, as we are able to quanitfy the amount of time we may have left. Therein, we are reminded of our mortality in a way we never would had we never wrote down our birthday.

There are tribes in Africa that donít record a birthday and when asked why, they donít understand why someone would care. In our culture, I can only see the quest for someone to find their missing birth date as a quest to define themselves in terms of their time left in existence.

And so my birthday proceeds along, just like any other day, punctuated by calls from parents and siblings singing "Happy Birthday" on a speakerphone, friends sending jokes of failing memory and loss of bowel control, and my wife upset because I have a meeting after work that will get me home a hour or two late - too late for us to have a Ďspecial birthday dinner.í

I think of my mortality, and if someone can really make any significant, meaningful contribution in their life, and how by my age people have made their mark in some way and at least give the impression that they have their lives together, and could die tomorrow a happy human.

So what is the significance of a birthday? And what have I accomplished? No, Iím not depressed by any means. Iím simply non-plussed.

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