Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Isn't it a funny expression, "turning" a certain age? It's as if I woke up this morning and noticed my eyes were a slightly different color, or that I had grown a tail. Turning is what leaves do....they are a brilliant green, then vibrant red or orange, then they brown and wither before they die. Is this the turning I'm to expect?
But I'm not turning. Not turning in, turning over, or turning Japanese. I'm fifty. That's cool. I'm about eight hours in and so far it feels fine.
Our culture tells us that it's one of those landmark birthdays that are supposed to be acknowledged with special events and gifts. That's cool, too. I like parties and gifts (and trips to Mexico) just as much as the next guy, and I'm happy to be experiencing or anticipating those good things. Our lives have seasons that deserve recognition. We are made for times of fasting and feasting, days of looking back and looking forward.
Since my birthday falls just before Christmas, near the end of the calendar year, it's always an emotional time of reflection for me. I'm a year older, and soon I'll be starting a New Year, with all the pressure to make resolutions and become The Person I Was Always Meant to Be. Now that I'm fifty I want to say, "I'm here! I've done it! I've figured out how to stop gossiping and begin praying every day. I know the secrets to fast, permanent weight loss and effective closet organization. I don't let the negativity of others get me down, and I have my dream job."
But I don't possess any of those things.
I know that I am older and wiser than I once was, but that I will continue to make daily mistakes. I will likely fight the same demons for the rest of my life. And well, if resignation is maturity, I'm finally growing up.
This is truth: we have very, very little control over the circumstances of our lives. Bad things will happen to us, and for us, and around us. And so will absolutely amazing beautiful things that we don't deserve.
We can't choose much, but most of the time, when our mental and spiritual unwellness don't prevent it, we can choose our attitudes. I'm going to choose a good attitude more often. I'm going to choose gratefulness and joy.
Last Sunday I attended Mass at a neighboring parish. I had dressed nicely, which I try to do when I go to church, but also because I'm vain, and I like clothes, and I was going to a party later. Objectively, I probably looked put-together. But I felt ugly. I felt fat and old and unattractive, and while I tried to pay attention to the service, I kept thinking about how I didn't like my haircut and that I still hadn't lost the weight I wanted to lose by my birthday, and that I wouldn't like the pictures that would be taken of me at holiday gatherings.
Despite my self-absorbed distracted state, I got up to go to Communion. When I did, I recognized a woman in the row behind me - she and I had attended the same high school. She touched my arm and commented on how much she and her daughter, who was with her, liked my scarf. I thanked her and told her it was a gift from my daughter. Then I noticed that her daughter was helping her stand. They walked together up to Communion, with her daughter supporting her the entire way. I could see the pain in her face, and it became clear she was suffering from some disability or illness.
I returned to my seat, ashamed. Here I was, about to turn 50, and by all accounts in excellent health. Yes, I have arthritic knees and my blood pressure and sugar are a little high now and then. But I can walk unassisted. I am not in constant pain. My face is not lined with suffering, and I look younger and healthier than many.
My good health is a tremendous blessing that I take for granted. So is the gift of my marriage, my children, and my large extended family. I don't thank God enough for my job, my friends, my home, or the many natural gifts I've been given. I'm blessed. I'm lucky.
As I left the church an elderly man came up to me. He walked with a limp, and he was missing more than a couple teeth. He mumbled a question, "What's your name?" I told him, and then he asked me how old I was. I thought it was an odd question, but I answered. "I'll be fifty on Tuesday! Wish me a happy birthday!"
"Happy Birthday, Cathy!" He looked me in the eye and took a hold of my hand. "Happy Birthday!"
Happy Birthday, Cathy. Yes, it is a happy birthday. I'm going to make it a happy year.