The older we get, I've noticed, the less it seems we want to recognize our birthdays.
That's been especially true of my wife, Beth, who “celebrated” her birthday on Thursday. I use the word celebrated with tongue in cheek, because to her birthdays aren't special as they might have been when she was a little girl.
The younger you are, the more a birthday is something to look forward to.
Families rejoice in a baby's first birthday. And each year is a recognition of growth and maturity and new milestones on the road of life. From the “terrible” 2s to kindergarten 5 to double-figures 10 and the teen-age debut at 13 (the bar mitzvah if you're Jewish) and sweet 16, kids love to take these steps forward.
And, of course, you're officially an adult at 18 (depending on where you live). So we all anticipated and rejoiced in those milestones on the way to adulthood.
Then the years seem less special for the trek leading up to the cliched 40th birthday party with its gag gifts and sarcastic wisecracks about being over the hill and having one foot in the grave. And they tell you it's all downhill after that.
No wonder Beth doesn't like recognizing her birthday – it merely highlights the fact that she's older than she was last year. That can be depressing.
Forty wasn't really so bad after all, but at 50 you're thinking this aging thing is really getting serious. At 60 we realize we're as old as we remember our grandparents being. And after 65 – the old standard retirement age – well, that means we've spent our life, and it's just a matter of time until we finally wear out and fade away. The only other really “special” birthday after that, it seems, is if you're healthy enough to make it to 100. Then everybody marks that astounding milestone with wonder and amazement.
So Beth doesn't want a party. She likes to keep her birthdays private, just between us – OK, she'll concede to some family recognition if she has to. But it's really not a day to make a fuss.
So I was thinking about what I might write on her birthday card this year and found some clever quips and reflections on getting older like the following:
“You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.” George Burns
“Getting older is no problem. You just have to live long enough.” Groucho Marx
“I'm kind of comfortable with getting older because it's better than the other option, which is being dead. So I'll take getting older.” George Clooney
“If you're always battling against getting older, you're always going to be unhappy, because it's going to happen anyhow.” Mitch Albom
“I was thinking about how people seem to read the Bible a lot more as they get older, and then it dawned on me—they're cramming for their final exam.” George Carlin
Birthdays shouldn't be celebrations of age — they should be celebrations of life. And that's the difference, isn't it? Not how old you are, but the fact that you are alive and that your life is special. So, happy birthday, Beth. The fact you are here and in our lives is what we celebrate.
Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.