A year, no matter how it is determined, is simply the marker of a complete cycle. The transition, the precise turning point, between the end of one cyclical period and the start of another designates a new year. Our birthday is our own personal New Year.
I was born on my mother's birthday. As a child, I was absolutely enchanted by this bit of information. "Did I come all wrapped in ribbons," I would ask? "Were there balloons? A cake? Did the nurses sing 'Happy Birthday to You' to you?" And my mother, being of the-glass-is-half-empty-school, would reply that, although I was certainly a lovely present, she could think of several things that she'd rather have been doing on her (pre-Lamaze) birthday.
Sulpicia, the famed first century Roman poet, was also piqued by the circumstances of her would-be party day. She cursed her "hateful birthday to be spent in the boring old country." Most of us cherish a certain notion of entitlement on our birthday.
Who doesn't awaken on their birthday with a tingle, a heart skip of excitement? A trill of a thrill, a nascent throb of specialness? The date jumps out at us from newspapers, calendars, mail and memos, and we start the day with a stimulated sense of anticipation or, for some perhaps, trepidation. In any case, a heightened awareness of personal significance. Our birthday is the anniversary of our self, the blessing of the fact of our being.
Our birthday is the annual reunion that we have with ourselves, and attendance is required. As such, it serves as an ideal opportunity to take serious personal stock. "How am I doing?" as Ed Koch, the feisty former mayor of New York City, would always ask. A birthday, then, becomes a timeline, a lifeline, a party line, a deadline. An assessment of our annual bottom line. Our birthday consciousness calls for an accounting of our days on Earth and the lessons that we have or have not learned.
Like any new beginning, our birthday is an ideal time to sharpen our priorities, realign our perspective and rededicate ourselves to living the very best life that we can. On her 18th birthday, Princess Victoria of Great Britain wrote in her journal:
How old! And yet how far I am from being what I should be... I shall from this day take the firm resolution to study... to keep my attention always well fixed on whatever I am about, and strive everyday to become less trifling and more fit for what, if Heaven wils (sic) it, I'm someday to become!
Every year I take time out during the two-week period surrounding my birthday. I usually retreat to some extent and fast to some degree. This experience is intended to center me and slow me down. It is my birthday gift to myself. During my fast/retreat I devote myself completely to cleansing and centering myself: body, mind and spirit, in readiness for the future. I rinse my system with fresh water and teas, I clean my house and altars, and I use yoga, meditation and t'ai chi to flush my mind clear of the mental detritus that I have accumulated.
I use this time to ruminate upon the year just past and plan for the one to come. For this purpose, I have kept a birthday journal since the early 1980s. Once a year in this most cherished ritual, I focus myself completely on the recording and evaluation of my recent experiences and actions. How have I grown? What have I learned? And what is it that I just can't seem to get through my thick skull?
My "Birthday Book" is my personal performance review. In it, I process my impressions and my lessons, plot my progress, polish my perspective, ponder my problems and obstacles, plan my goals and prepare myself mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually to move forward in a positive manner.
The New Year is the birthday of time. So it presents us all with a perfect opportunity to turn the page in the book of our lives and begin a new chapter. Who are we? What are our intentions? What do we resolve? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Why? How? When, if not now?
We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first
chapter is New Year's Day.
-- Edith Lovejoy Pierce
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