The first time I went to celebrate my son's birthday at school in kindergarten, I witnessed a lovely tradition. They had a celebration and singing, the sweets and things you might imagine, but there were also "The Birthday Wishes." Sitting in a big circle, going around the ring one by one, each child makes a special wish for the year ahead, for the birthday boy or girl. When they were five-years-old, most of the wishes were about having the biggest cake or getting the most presents, but some of them were also incredibly profound; "I wish for your happiest year ever," "I wish that you will grow up to be whoever you want to be," and "I wish that we will always be friends."
We have adopted this practice in our family, and looking back, if only I had videotaped all the kids' wishes to each other over the last nine years! They were and are always quite illuminating and touching. The power of stopping for a moment -- just really stopping everything else, putting down your phone and shutting off the computer and looking another person in the eyes and speaking deeply from your heart to say, "This is what I wish for you."
Last year on my birthday, I received a birthday wish from one of my very best friends, Debbie Ford. How funny, I thought, she likes to make birthday wishes too? I asked her if I'd shared my story about kindergarten? She said no, that making a wish on someone's special day was just something she had always liked to do.
I read her wish for me and it touched me deeply, even brought tears to my eyes. I thanked her profusely and she asked me to keep it close by and read it again throughout the year. I did as she asked, and many times when I was feeling down, I would read her message and it would reframe my perspective.
Devastatingly, my friend Debbie passed away the beginning of this year. As I sat down to write my speech for the celebration of her life, I remembered the birthday wish, buried in my iPhone. I re-read it for inspiration and I could hear her voice as I read the words:
What I love about you is your great big beautiful smile, your twinkling blue eyes, your loving heartfelt laugh, and your generous nature. I love the way you love your children and how your family is the most important part of your life. I love that you're curious, that you listen, that you learn, and that you're always ready to hear some tough advice even though you usually know the answer before you ask the question. I love the way you crawl out of the depths of darkness and into the light of your beautiful divine self when you're confronted with smallness, greed, and disappointing people. You are an angel (even though sometimes you don't want to be) with a compassionate heart that touches so many. I love your honesty and I love that you're the greatest girlfriend in the world. I love your innocence and your courage to move on. I love you, Suzanne. And I know that this is going to be the best year of your life. I am wishing you the happiest, healthiest, most exciting, juiciest year of your life.
Sending you tons of love,
I share those words not because I think of myself that way, but I know for certain that she did, and that knowledge continues to profoundly affect me. I realize that Debbie was right, it has been an incredible year in many ways. So many of my friends want to ignore their birthday because they hate the idea of getting another year older. But what's the alternative? You can celebrate, or just be older without celebrating, or be dead. Next year I will turn the age my father was when he died, so I am choosing gratitude for getting older.
As I celebrate my birthday this year, I want to encourage others to take on the idea of making birthday wishes. It doesn't cost money or take a lot of time, just a few focused minutes of looking within and then sharing your feelings. When I imagine lots of people sharing and connecting with each other in this way, it makes me really happy, because I know it would make Debbie very happy. And that's my birthday wish come true.
(You can watch the Celebration of Debbies' life here, including tributes from Marianne Williamson, Deepak Chopra, Arielle Ford, Suzanne Todd and many others.)