Once a year, every year, we all share in the same “ritual”: that of
“celebrating” our birthday. I deliberately put those words in quotes
because what may be a happy and uplifting occasion to one — something
which might include a get-together with friends or even a party —
might be an occasion for seclusion or depression to another. And it
may be what they always choose to indulge in, every year, as it comes
around once again.
Which leads me to the point of this column: what kind of thoughts
about life might one have that leads one to consider a birthday as an
occasion to spurn, to ignore, to forget, to run away from — possibly
even covering it over with vague comments about its nonexistence —
hiding from the world until it passes, or simply going into some kind
of denial? In other words, what are we learning about life as we go
along that makes us take a presumably sharp turn away from “It’s my
birthday!” to “Don’t remind me!” or “I don’t want to think about it”?
Birthdays are the only generally accepted “holiday” that applies to
all of us, individually. Oh, we all probably have plenty of so-called
“special” days we might celebrate, but they are not shared by all. Try
as you may, you cannot come up with anything that everybody
“celebrates,” in one way or another, no matter their race, culture,
country or religious beliefs. However, HOW those birthdays are
celebrated…or remembered… or noted… that is the point of
Why birthdays? Why now? Besides the fact that I received one of the
nicest birthday surprises myself just the other day — under the guise
of a so-called editors’ meeting at our offices, wherein there was a
party-gathering of several of my favorite people/co-workers — I seem
to be having nonstop birthday surprises from my children and friends
as well. I kind of like this week-long celebration thing, which really
feels good. But mainly, if one grants oneself the time and space in
which to dwell on what one’s own birthday means — whether in terms of
time spent on this earth, possible time left to spend, how one already
spent one’s time or how one intends to spend the rest of the time one
might have left — it offers up a lot of birthday party food for
I often run into people (well, “meet people” might be a less violent
and more descriptive way to put it) who do not like to discuss their
age, think about their age, or even tell their age. Now, while I am
not one of them, I understand completely the concept of not
IDENTIFYING with one’s age. To me, if everyone else has some idea of
what a 50-year-old is like, or “should” be like, and you happen to act
more like a 30-year-old, they may want to tell you to “act your age.”
If you are 65 and happy to have retired and set out to do some of
things on your “list” from 30 years ago, they may decide for you that
you are “too old” to do that now. And heaven forbid if you happen to
fall in love with someone substantially younger than yourself! What
will people think? Don’t you know it will never work?
Well, if people don’t know your age, there is less chance for them to
get involved in trying to run your life or judge your life. You can
just do what you choose to do, age notwithstanding. And yet that, too,
is not the real point of this column.
While I have switched over to gauging my life — if indeed it must be
measured in some kind of way — by “experience points” as opposed to
years, I have for quite a while now considered my progress toward my
own version of perfection. What I mean by that is that I welcome the
anniversary of the day on which I was born as a day on which to
reflect on the progress I may have made toward getting closer to the
“me” that I have designed for myself: the more “perfect” me; the best
me that I can be. I muse about doing more of what I believe would
bring me closer to that better person I want to be, and doing less of
what might keep me from that goal.
Last year on my birthday, someone asked me what my birthday advice
would be to anyone who asked. The highest advice I could give, in a
nutshell, was “Just be kind.” This year, since I am not confined to a
“nutshell” — and even though I stand by last year’s advice to just be
kind — I suggest that anyone who wants a better life (or even just a
better year) to reflect on, consider designing yourself to be a better
person. What is it you always admire in others? Kindness? Caring?
Honesty? Helpfulness? Put those virtues or values on yourself and see
to it that you live up to your own design.
If you do not know how you would PREFER to be, you cannot know if
you’ve made any progress in achieving your goal.
So, my birthday advice this year, for those who will ever find it a
good idea to reflect on their own life on at least one day of the year
— possibly the anniversary of their birth — is this: Design yourself!
How would you really like to be? Then spend the next year — or the
rest of your life — living up to your own goal.
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She
writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at firstname.lastname@example.org.