04 February 2010

Hippo, Birdie, Two Yews.

That was the cute card I got on a birthday years ago. But hey, I remember it, right?

Yes, today is the day, which has rarely been especially fortunate. Remember, it is early February. In Michigan. I feel blessed that is is nearly freezing out there. Some of the ice is looking a little soft. Yay! And look at a few people and events that share the day - Dan Quayle, David Brenner, The formation of the Confederate States of America, the kidnapping of Patty Hearst.

But that my birthday has not been especially lovely over the years I count as wise. Let's face it, I had nothing do with it. The day you are born is momentous, that particular day, as without it you would not exist. But marking the anniversary of it as some sort of personal holiday seems to me unwise.

For me, it has been, especially since turning 50, a moment of reflection and reckoning.

It reminds me that I really am a gift, and that this gift I have of being alive is amplified by being male and white and straight and American and educated and healthy. After all, most people lack most of those things. Talk about gifts I don't deserve.

And it reminds me to ask what I have done with this gift. The accumulating numbers tell me that this is not endless. It will go away eventually, and at my age (57) the portion ahead is definitely smaller than the portion behind. As this gift is dwindling every day, what should I do with it?

For some folks, fortunate ones like me, the answer is to form some 'bucket list' of things to do before you die. A fellow wrote a book listing the 1000 places you should see or things you should do before you die. They were adventures and stuff. He died before finishing them.

But when I ask what I should do I am asking what should I do with this gift that will outlast me? Yes, I would love to see the Great Wall, Petra, Great Zimbabwe and Angel Falls. I hope to enjoy the blessing of grandchildren and continued improvement in my piano playing. But when I die, these experiences die with me. On my birthday I am asking what I should do that will make my having lived a plus for the world, a net improvement. Every year I look back and see that I could have done more. Every year, though, I have done a little more than the year before. Gave more money, did more service, been more forgiving and needed less forgiveness. It will never be enough, but even a little more may make a difference eventually.

And heck, there's always next year!

1 comment:

Elisa (Nudelman) Winter said...

"On my birthday I am asking what I should do that will make my having lived a plus for the world, a net improvement."

You know, you make it completely impossible for me NOT to respond.

Here's my answer to the above question. I submit that the question and this line of questioning is not useful. The assumption is (is it not?) that your having lived is not yet a plus for the world, not yet a "net improvement." I found this kind of accounting (I'm sorry to say this) almost obnoxious.

IF you believe you are loved by the Almighty, you do not need to account. You can put the calculator down. Please.

If you believe you are loved by people, there's no further wondering about "plus for the world."

I want you to REST in your life, in your heart, in the cradle which is your very existence, with the knowledge that you are completely inevitably unerringly loved by the almighty, by your family and friends, by the people you have taught and from whom you have learned.

I don't want to hear about "the gifts you don't deserve." Accept them. Enjoy them. Love them. Exult in them. THAT, I believe, is exactly what we're here for (along with a few other things to be discussed at another time.)

You honor the almighty with your joy in your gifts. You please the almighty with your delight in your gifts. Dance with your gifts and the almighty claps and stomps and twirls with you.

No accounting No more.