Once a year a special day rolls around for everyone. Once a year folks can celebrate their birthday. The only exception is those people who were born during Leap Year. But even they get their day once every four years. Some people can’t wait for their birthdays. Usually kids fall into this category. Others proclaim every year that it comes, “I can’t believe I am as old as I am.” I have heard people in their 20s say this and, of course, older people readily claim it.
We are all born on a particular day. Even if mom’s labor begins late at night and it actually takes two days to deliver you into this world, you only get one day to call your birthday. Even if you popped out exactly as the midnight clock was striking, someone besides you would decide which day you were born. And once we get our day, it never changes.
Some birthdays are fun---real celebrations. Other birthdays have a sad tone. Of course it is not the day itself. Chronologically speaking, every day is just like every other day. Each day has twenty-four hours. The reason why birthdays are not all equal depends on the person celebrating the birthday. And in some sense, the quality of the birthday also depends on others recognizing and joining in the celebration of someone’s birthday.
It is easy to describe the good birthday. Usually that means the one celebrating the birthday is aware and appreciative of the birthday. This person is typically not hung up on the day itself. Again, the day happens to be the day someone told him or her that she or he was born. I certainly don’t remember being born. I take it for granted that it was a particular day. The person who can truly celebrate a birthday is the one who can appreciate not the day, but the life that was brought into the world on that day.
The appreciation is made even more special if others in one’s life join in that celebration. To have family and friends participate in celebrating a birthday does not make that day any more special. But it does lift up how special the person is whose birthday is being celebrated. To be authentically happy that someone is present in this world and that person is special to the others magnifies the appreciation.
I know nearly all of us are treated to the “Happy Birthday” song. It’s so well known, it is difficult to imagine any other song being used. However, if you think about the words, they are not very profound. We say “happy birthday” to the person four times. Probably the neatest thing about the song is the person is singled out by name for the birthday. And if we are the one celebrating the birthday, we know what’s coming!
Sometimes I wonder what the person who is not happy with his or her birthday feels or thinks? I suspect there are some folks who are not really happy with their “happy birthday!” No one ever asks us if we want the song. Realizing this is an invitation to think a little more deeply into the meaning of birthdays and why we insist on “happy” birthdays.
As we already noted, a birthday is a recognition that on a particular day each of us was delivered into the world. We may have been here already during a nine-month pregnancy, but we were not yet here on our own. Of course, none of us can make it on our own for a few years, but the promise is there.
I like the assumption---indeed, presumption---that our “birth day” is a “happy” occasion. This is where it gets spiritual for me. I can’t understand that assumption from any other angle than the spiritual. The spiritual assumption is the day is happy when I was born---and when you were born. The cause of happiness is not the day; it is you and it is I. This assumption is a radical affirmation of life. It is a radical affirmation of the happiness of my life and of your life. We come into the world as a gift of God.
I have to be a gift since I did not cause my own life to be nor did you. I am a gift born into the world and it is declared a “happy birth day.” It is right to celebrate that. I am intended to be and to be here. My spiritual assumption is God wanted it this way: God wants me to be here and to appreciate my birth day. And the same deal is for you, too. We are all gifts to the world. It is appropriate that we celebrate that day with some gifts.
One day a year I am given a gift or two---or more. But 365 days a year I am a gift to the world. This is where birthday women and men need to be serious. What kind of gift am I in this world? Some of us may be like gag gifts! And some of us may be even worse. I appreciate my birthday when it rolls around. I am grateful to the folks who recognize it. But honestly, I am more concerned about the kind of gift I am in the world.
Am I the kind of gift that is making the world better? Am I a grace? Am I a source of happiness for others? If I can answer yes to these questions, then every day is a happy birthday for me---and for God.