So it’s your birthday
And what have you done?
Another year older,
A new one just begun…
Reprising the great John Lennon here for a moment as I reflect on what my brother likes to call my “55th successful revolution of the sun”. Yes, it’s my birthday. No, I’m not having a party. I am working hard to stave off a pity party. Something about this year seems to hold special portent. The double digitedness of it, maybe? The fact that I am halfway through my (gasp!) 50s? That this is an age where many people I work with begin to leave for retirement? All of the above and possibly more.
What I don’t want to dwell on is all that I’ve lost in the past five years. Back then, I hadn’t lost my dad, my mom or my sister to cancer. I was physically fit, having completed a sprint triathlon the summer before and did another the following summer. I hadn’t been diagnosed with an incurable liver disorder or lupus. I hadn’t experienced a major breach of trust that almost ended my marriage. I felt hopeful, optimistic, and ready for whatever came next.
Today, the headline that comes to mind after listing all that crap above is “All that you’ve lost”, which sounds like a lyric from a U2 song. Clearly my mad skill for lyric memorization is coming in handy today.
But I need to change my thinking. I don’t want to dwell on what I’ve lost. I want to dwell on what is still possible. I am 55. I am alive. That last item alone should be reason to celebrate. While I may not have my health the same way it was, I don’t have a terminal cancer diagnosis, which is what my sister had at this age. I have my kids in my life and they are all well. I continue to like my job and don’t plan to leave it immediately – but I do have thoughts about when I might want to go and that sets off another set of thoughts around possibilities like “what’s next?”. I have ideas. I have dreams. I have goals. All of these are good things. So I need to nip any sense of pity in the bud and remind myself of all the good that being alive brings.
I remember standing up to raise a toast at my 50th birthday party, where my friends and some of my family had gathered. I looked around the room and saw people from almost every major part of my life – elementary school, junior high, high school, college, various career junctures – and I thought how very lucky I was to be connected to so many who knew the story of my life. I thanked them for being a part of that story and when I think about it today, I would want them all at a party this year, were I having one. Plus, there are new people that I would like to include. As I go through each year, I get richer and more blessed. I will dwell on that, and I will think about possibilities, not what’s been lost.
“The Only Thing That Is Constant Is Change”
This lovely cliché is attributed to the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who predated Plato. I needed to look this up for something at work that I was writing about and found the actual translation of his work is, more accurately:
“Upon those who step into the same rivers flow other and yet other waters. All things…are in flux like a river.”
Trans. John Mansley Robinson, An Introduction to Early Greek Philosophy, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1968) p. 91, Fragment 5.15 and p. 89, Fragment 5.10.
And so I view my life. It is a river that I step through and the water that moves by me has been going on for all time. I gather those drops that I need to sustain me, I hold them for a time, then, like all drops of water, they evaporate to become clouds and come back to the river as rain.
I am lucky. I am blessed. I am alive.