I had a wonderful feeling of deep appreciation on the 13th when I was inundated with birthday wishes. I received Happy Birthday from old friends and acquaintances, friends of my children, nieces and nephews and Facebook friends I have never met from places I have never been.
Happy Birthday has always felt a bit Hallmark to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always loved a good meal and gifts but it was easy to pass it off as a trivial celebration. Not yesterday. I truly felt remembered. For a few seconds people thought about me and wanted me to have a good day. A special day. “I hope you have cake.” “I love your blog.” “I haven’t seen you for awhile, let’s get together.” “You are celebrating your birthday but the rest of us are celebrating the anniversary of you arriving in the world and making it a better, happier place for us.” (Thanks Chris.)
Perhaps the difference this birthday is that I let myself feel appreciated. My old self is loosening up on the weighty, the important, the significant… I am beginning to experience the simple, the immediate, the gentle, the human, the sweet, the pleasant, the lovable as being the truly exceptional. It’s a wonderful transition.
I never imagined I would have sixty-eight birthdays. Like most people, old was not something I wanted to imagine. But more specifically in my case I was raised to believe that I would never reach old age. I never thought I would reach an age to marry and have children let alone grandchildren.
My family’s religion taught that Jesus was coming back and he would put an end to this world. By 1980. By 2000. There was no way we’d reach 2025. Bible prophecies assured us that we were living in the time of the end. Most importantly the Jews were back in the land of Israel and we were to keep our eyes out for the time that “Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven…Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.”
I remember when I was 11 or 12 years old and those verses from the Gospel of Luke were my memory verses. My Sunday School teacher passed them out in the form of a little sticker. I put it in my “proof book”. We were given one sticker each Sunday. The verses were “proof” that we knew the Bible, that the Bible was God’s word, that we understood what it meant and that everyone else had it wrong. That particular proof was long and the other kids groaned. But I was good at remembering. I took the long proofs as a challenge. I have never forgotten that one.
Those verses described the state of the world for my entire life. They kept me on edge. But there was more. There were the prophecies about the six days, the one thousand years per day, the end of the six thousandth year was 2000 and after that it was the millennium. I don’t expect most of you will understand that one. It seemed pretty straight-forward at the time but it’s not one that stuck with me. I couldn’t believe that the world was only 6000 years old. There wasn’t a “proof”. But it didn’t matter. We were waiting nevertheless (I always loved the way that word flowed with three together).
And yet here I am. Sixty-eight years old. I left the religion thirty years ago. Beliefs about the Bible and the god of my family’s religion have long since dissolved. I am no longer right and everyone else is no longer wrong. Thankfully I no longer believe that I am exceptional, God’s chosen. I no longer believe that I will be saved along with a handful of others like in the story of Noah’s ark while the tiny group of us watch the rest of the world and humankind be destroyed. But the sense that this world is temporary has never left me.
These days there has been a very strange turn of events. I used to be the only “end of the worlder” that I knew (other than the “insiders” in our tiny wee church). I used to look out at “outsiders” in awe and be somewhat jealous at the way they had such confidence in the world. It was as if they believed it would go on forever. They made plans for their lives, their careers, their retirement. They had investments and dreams and ambitions.
But these days everyone has become an “end of the worlder”. Most people have finally realized that the world cannot indefinitely provide for humans’ endless capacity to consume. It will not go on forever. Not as we know it. Something very, very different is in our future.
This doesn’t seem to be a good place to end a blog. I don’t have a tidy wrap up for this. I need to write another blog to take up where this one signs off.
For now it is enough for me to say that the idea that the world as it has been would go on forever is where the problem really lies. It is a world-view problem and it was a delusion from the start. A delusion humans love but a delusion nevertheless. Giving up on a delusion hurts. I know because leaving the fantasies of the church of my early life was excruciating.
But once we come to terms with the fact that our existence as it is could never have been sustainable, once we realize that we were just plain wrong about life then we can begin to figure out how to live with a more temporary sense of being human. Then we can figure out how to treat the earth, its beings and other humans as the gifts they are rather than ours for the taking and the using.
Perhaps it’s this transition that allows me to truly feel the happy in the birthday. Letting go of my own importance and incorporating the good will and generosity of others for one moment, for one day is truly a wonderful thing.
Thank you thank you thank you all.