HELP LINE: Why do we mark birthdays?

TODAY IS AUG. 11, 2019, and I’m in the mood for musings.

That’s not to say that I have suddenly — after all these years — been given access to a muse.

It just means … well, it means I’m going to “muse,” so if you’re not in the mood for a muse, I completely understand.

And what puts me in a musing mood? Well, my birthday is a few days away.

Now, that doesn’t mean that you should all rise up in a rousing rendition of the “William Tell Overture” (which has much more memorable lyrics than “Happy Birthday”) or even “Happy Birthday.”

Actually, it doesn’t really mean anything to anybody including, I think, me.

Which is how this musing begins.

Why do we count birthdays?

Many of us just find it depressing. In fact, unless you’re on the brink of a driver’s license, a ballot or a bar tab, it doesn’t really matter. Does it?

We’ve learned to make it matter: In some carefully prescribed situations, “How old are you?” is a perfectly logical question.

Doctors have learned to care.

Social Security cares — deeply.

Medicare cares.

And lots of agencies, institutions and businesses act like they care, but all they really want is our date of birthday as a part of making sure that we’re not somebody else.

Fair enough.

So, from zero to 21, we care.

At 65, we care.

But between 21 and 65, who cares?

And after 65, we are well past caring, so why do we count birthdays?

Frankly, it seems a bit … counterproductive.

Are we measuring how much closer we’ve come to being dead?

I mean, since we don’t generally know exactly when we’re going to morph to the next phase anyway, what are we measuring?

We’re not — we’re just guessing. There’s a morale builder for you.

But it feels like we’re measuring … something: That we’re still alive? OK, congratulations.

Maturity? Really?

Is that a guaranteed fringe benefit of bunches of birthdays?

You and I both know it isn’t.

Wisdom? Maybe. Sometimes.

Wiser than we were, certainly — hopefully.

Does it help to put a number on it? After all, what we often seem to learn from is … experience.

And we have the scars to prove it.

Is that what we’re measuring — scars?

No, it seems like we’re measuring something that feels like some sort of achievement: a milestone, a goal accomplished, usher-out-the-old, ring-in-the-new … another chance.

Another chance. Oh, that talks to me!

Another chance. And “chance” be damned!

It’s another opportunity! A gift from a generous and forgiving universe with short-term memory loss.

Another chance.

Wow. And you’d darken this blessing with black balloons?

Yet another chance to try to get it right?

After all the silly, egotistical, self-centered, it’s-all-about-me screw-ups throughout all these years I’m being given another opportunity?

Wow, I’m just beginning to get it: Who I might be, how I might be, who I don’t have to be, how I could be … how I want to be.

And that I don’t have to lower my voice when I say, “I love you.”

After all these opportunities, I think I know who I’m not and who I’ll never be because I made all those choices a long time ago, in past opportunities, so is that something lost?

Or something gained?

I’ve noticed that when I spend too much time looking back, I have a nasty tendency to run into things.

If I don’t have to be anything that ends in “…est,” I could just be … Mark.

Just “Mark” — with another opportunity.

Wow, another opportunity to tell my best friend, “I love you” out loud.

Some years back I started saying something that I thought was very catchy: I said, “Aging is not an affliction, it’s an achievement.”

But I don’t think I really understood it.

I think I’m just now beginning to understand why we always get the same thing for our birthdays, year after year: another opportunity.

Because God wouldn’t have it any other way.


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing [email protected].

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