Today I turned 50. While at face value it would seem like a fun day, I’ve never been a big fan of birthday celebrations. As a child a birthday was usually more likely to disappoint, what with the high expectations that children often get. You know the scene: child walks into party, everyone yells happy birthday, then someone drops his cake, the “birthday pony” turns into a package of underwear that don’t fit, and then a spanking is given because even though it’s your party, you cannot actually cry if you want to. Even my best celebration ever (age 40) seemed to sour over time: most of the friends that came to that party don’t even speak with me now after a nasty church split happened a couple of years later (to be blogged at a later date…much later!). Believe me, I do not look forward to the annual celebration.
Maybe the disappointments from the early birthdays have helped the presents matter less and less? I have been known to go pick out my own so my wife and kids know exactly what to get me. This year I got a nice watch (Japanese: I would feel uncomfortable and pretentious with a Swiss timepiece) and some clothes that were on sale when we were in Branson a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I’m becoming more practical, too? I think about some of the other gifts I have had in previous years, and my favorite is an electric guitar kit my wife bought me. I still have that guitar, and while my assembly could have been more skilled, it means a lot to me because she and my kids got it for me, and since we are all musicians it has greater meaning for me.
One of my favorite ways to celebrate usually involves just trying to be alone. Magnum P.I. had the best way to celebrate: get up early, grab the surf/sail board, get dropped 5 miles out at sea, and then spend the rest of the day paddling around in circles to avoid everyone else! Sometimes I do this, but in my own way: I drive out early to the river and fly fish alone, enjoying the quiet and solitude while smoking a cigar (lighten up: it’s the one time or place I smoke). Being alone on this day allows me to look inward, reflect, and think about the stuff that matters most to me. Yes, it’s a bit selfish, but hey, it’s my birthday! Dinner will be had later in the day either just with my wife and kids and perhaps my brother. This year we will meet my folks for dinner somewhere early, then head back home to wrap up the day.
Spending time alone on my birthday gives me a chance to look back at the previous 12 months, and this year is no exception. Work goes well, and though some things in my department could be going better I recognize that my team is doing a very good job. My church continues to grow which is especially comforting to me. The church split I mentioned led to our former pastor recruiting almost every person under the age of 40 away to a new startup, and it’s taken a few years for growth to begin again; it’s good to move on. Looking back for a bit helps me look forward, and thinking about what was helps me resolve to work on what could be.
It’s also nice to think about the people and situations that have taken me to today. The advent of Facebook has given me a chance to reconnect with some of these old friends, and I’m very appreciate to have these people back in my life. Carol and Janice are part of a rotating lunch crew that meets every month or so, and they knew me from “back in the day” when we were all in high school. They do a good job of keeping me grounded if I should get a little too uppity…! Randy is a coworker who I also went to high school with. I’m a manager in my current job, but Randy has a way of reminding me of what I was like in high school, when he and our friend James could beat me up!
Facebook has also allowed me to reconnect with old college and church friends. Connie went to my high school, but I also knew her from my old church in South West Little Rock and because she was friends with my “first best friend”, Melinda (she and I met when we were in diapers!). I wish I was more like Connie. She is fighting cancer again, but never lets it bring her down, at least not for very long. Her posts on Facebook always seem to lift me up somehow, even when she is suffering. If anyone has the right to complain it would be her, but she is the first to say “Get over it”, and does.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say a bit more about Melinda. My first memory of having a friend over as a child was her. Since her mother and mine were good friends we got to spend time together, and since we went to the same church we just always seemed to be around. As we moved up a few grades there were times we ran in different circles, but after spending 10 minutes together we always seemed to pick right back up from where we were before. Even now it still happens: we sat next to each other at a funeral, and in between the tears over a friend’s passing we were laughing and giggling! Never, EVER sit next to Melinda and I at a funeral!
Looking back to appreciate the good friends usually leads me to think about my family, starting with my wife. I am the first person to admit “I married up!”, and anyone who knows her would agree…! My boys, the twins, also do a good job of helping me be me. Unfortunately, they have inherited my gift of snark: their sense of humor and sarcasm is developing all too quickly.
I think this might be a good time to post a picture of one of the other gifts I got today on my 50th birthday from my wife and sons. I would remind them “Paybacks are hell!”.