A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was born on this day. OK, not so long ago and not so far away – Sunday July 21 at 8:15 am. at the Humber Memorial Hospital in Toronto. A birth like most others, welcomed into this world with a frantic race through traffic to the hospital, a whole lot of blood flowing, more than a few screams, tears all around and some of them for joy. Which sounds like what happens in much of life.
But why celebrate a birthday? I think there’s many good reasons. We’re space and time creatures and birthdays are milestones of the beginning of our story, markers along the journey that help us take stock of the story-arc of our lives, naming where we are and what we are becoming. And they are healthy reminders that the story of our lives is brief; there is an ending to me and you.
I think birthdays are joy tutors. I find most of us to be fairly joy-challenged people and a birthday teaches us the serious business of celebration. I’m convinced you can’t get enough parties, cake, presents, candles, and singing in life. If, as C.S. Lewis notes, “joy is the serious business of heaven,” then we better learn some of the rhythms of that way of being here and now.
And then they are ways of paying attention to the uniqueness of each life before us. Each person you meet is nothing less than a one-of-a-kind handiwork of the Creator. Think of the improbably unique wonder of each human life. Imagine the millions of different genetic permutations and combinations you might have been, and yet it is you, me, who are here, the ones God elected to fashion into existence. It seems obvious that such a unique creation is, at the very least, worth one day’s notice and attention. Dare we believe that we are people worth a proper fête?
I like what Henri Nouwen has to say about birthdays: “Celebrating a birthday reminds us of the goodness of life, and in this spirit we really need to celebrate people’s birthdays every day, by showing gratitude, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, and affection. These are ways of saying: ‘It’s good that you are alive; it’s good that you are walking with me on earth. Let’s be glad and rejoice. This is the day that God has made for us to be and to be together.’ “ (Here and Now: Living in the Spirit)
Mostly, birthdays are good reminders of the faithful love of God. Their an annual card to me that I didn’t need to be, that this year was a gift, that I am here today by grace alone.