Gifts that can't be wrapped
Over the past year, the newspaper business here in Oregon has changed in some both expected and unexpected ways. One unexpected way was that our company centralized its editing process and took my former office corner-mate, and the former holiday/birthday fairy of the office, away to our main branch. This left me as the fill-in “Cathy Cheerleader.” Woo.
I’ve always had an interesting relationship with my own birthday, seeing as I share a birth month with the big JC – Jesus Christ – himself. As a kid it meant fewer gifts, because friends would mark presents as split Christmas and birthday. I tried hard not to feel cheated, but really, they’re two separate days. As I joke now:
“Yeah, your birthday is near Easter, but I didn’t buy you a chocolate bunny for your birthday.”
Throughout high school the main drag around my birthday was the fact that any good Friday evening on which I’d typically have hosted a party or done something celebratory, I was inevitably in the bleachers with my saxophone playing in the pep band at a basketball game.
In college, the affair became even less riveting (if you can believe it) when my birthday always seemed to fall during the first finals week of the school year. My 21st birthday was on a Tuesday during exams … again, woo.
Now, like most adults, I work a lot of birthdays. This year the anniversary of my birth fell on a Monday. Deadline day. I was fortunate to have the weekend before to spend some QT (quality time) with my parents, friends and boyfriend before gearing up for newspaper production on Monday. And I also had some QT to reflect on why, even with the plethora of show-stealing Christmas lights and jingles around, I still feel it’s important for me to celebrate my birthday – maybe even more so than I used to believe.
So, back to my role as “Cathy Cheerleader, jr.,” in my reflection I thought back to August. Being tasked with baking goodies for everyone in the office on their birthday, I walked into my publisher’s office to ask what he’d like me to make for what he refers to as the “Universal Day of Thankfulness.” (We love him most for his modesty.)
When asked, my publisher said: “We don’t need to celebrate my birthday.”
We don’t need to celebrate? What?
“I do concur,” I let him know. And not just because of a lifetime of having my own day shadowed by JC, but because Mr. Brown almost didn’t have a birthday this year.
Among all of the other not good things to happen in our office this year, Mr. Brown had a heart attack this March – one the doctors said he shouldn’t by medical right have survived.
“We ARE going to celebrate,” I told him. “You almost didn’t have a birthday. Now, what baked good do you want.”
For different reasons, I realized and was forced to take note of this week, I also almost didn’t have another birthday a few years ago.
As I’m sure several of you who frequent this blog know, I’ve done quite a bit of reflection and writing on my past dealings with suicidal ideation. I’ve written about coping mechanisms for anxiety and depression, simple narratives of what my experience with mental illness has been just for the purpose of letting others know they’re not alone – I haven’t been very reserved (in the past year, at least) about my mental health and past experiences.
But it wasn’t until recently I thought of it this way.
I almost didn’t have another birthday.
The calendar of my life almost ended not long after I turned 23.
Thinking about that also made me really take stock of what I actually enjoy about celebrating getting older every year.
As nice as getting is, it’s not really the presents. It’s the QT, the practically forced time for self-reflection, and in recent years it’s really made me stop and think about those people I spend QT with, who’ve traveled another year on my journey with me and are now celebrating another year of having me in their world.
Hell, I may just start making my birthday a day to give gifts to those people. Maybe JC’s spirit has rubbed off on me as a child of the advent season.
All I know is that this year I feel especially grateful to have had the last 26 birthdays, and to have several caring and wonderful people in my life to celebrate with. Those people are who make life worth living and make birthdays worth celebrating.