My family, like many, has always placed a great importance on birthdays. After all, that’s the day to celebrate a person’s actual birth, their very existence on the planet. By celebrating a person, we revel in the richness they contribute to our family and community life. We also mark the milestone by celebrating the birthday person’s life, their achievements and aspirations, perhaps even their birth story. Birthdays, even if shared within a family or circle, are still fairly unique. Each one gets his or her chance to shine on their individual day.
We always mark the precise day and time on our daughter Anna’s birth, and that moment has special power for us. Because Anna was born at 11:19 on a Saturday morning, we even often stop what we’re doing at 11:19 on Saturdays throughout the year. (This is a blessing of having a birth time when that is widely possible, as opposed to Thursday at 3 a.m.) We just make a simple note of that time – nothing more. We have all come to know that that is an expression of gratitude for Anna and even a little prayer for all the babies coming into the world at that moment. Now, in Anna’s teen years, this small gesture has survived as a shorthand.
Children at school or elsewhere on their birthdays can look at the clock and mark the exact time of their year turning, if possible. Of course, with numerous children, adopted children, busy lives and more or odder or less precise birth times, one may not be able to do this each week or even each year, and neither do we. It’s a nice gesture to remember and note the birthday moment or a token of it when possible. After all, what better birthday gift can there be than the knowledge that those around you are grateful for your existence?
Celebrations of both everyday and special occasions add rhythm and texture to family and community life. They allow people to gather for happy occasions and honor and celebrate a range of life passages, even some that may be challenging. They also allow individuals and families to punctuate time and mark passages for themselves, both publicly and in a way that carries over into ones internal life. Celebrations can lend power and blessings to events, and even moments, that help separate them from the everyday. Though modern life often ignores rites of passage that have been celebrated for millennia, birthday celebrations largely endure.
Once Anna went to school and I wasn’t always with her to mark her precise birth time, I began to try to pause on my own to reflect, and urged her to do so as well. This year on her birthday, I had the joy of going for a neighborhood walk, on a break between rainstorms. I paused at 11:19 to enjoy shafts of autumn sunlight shining through these beautiful golden leaves and celebrate my radiant daughter.
Happy Birthday to celebrants all year and wherever you are.
Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman