Taking Stock of Life on My Birthday

by on May 6, 2019 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

Today my column falls on my birthday, and while I have never been much for formal celebrations, there is something about turning the page (in this case to 54) that makes one stop for a moment and ponder the passing of time and the meaning of this day in the stream of all the others.  It is, in fact, just another day, one we arbitrarily mark in the larger collection of them that we call our lives.

For this reason, the Buddhists prefer to say things like “Happy Today’s Day” or “Happy Continuation” rather than attaching themselves to the illusion of measured time.  Surely this is a wise practice.

Nonetheless, the Western temptation to measure and/ or evaluate persists, so we like to notch our belts as we go with lists of accomplishments: I got a degree, a job, a marriage, a family, a set of social or material accomplishments, etc.

By this reckoning, the birthday can become a sort of life resume check where we revise and add as we go along, padding or deleting as we deem appropriate. Some people I talk to seem to have a kind of decade by decade plan mentality where they assume they should be at life marker A, B, or C by a certain point—first book by 30, professional accomplishment X by 40, overcome existential dread by 50, and on and on.

However satisfied we may be during a given day of self-examination, this still tends to be a treadmill that we trundle upon, always replacing one chimerical finish line with another.  It is an addiction to expectation that never allows us to be present where we are.

If we aren’t happy with the course of our existence, we tend to bemoan our losses and/ or missed opportunities. At our worst, we nurse our grudges with others, with life itself.  In this case, the birthday is a kind of festival of disappointment and recrimination. The mind goes through a catalogue of the ones that got away or were taken from us. If only I could have caught a break, I would have been at the appointed destination or made the desired accomplishment by now.

This is, of course, a dark and descending path that can turn into a deadening alienation from the external world that we blame for the ills that are really just the product of our own failure of imagination.  In the end, we’re closed for business. Dead before we’re dead.

Thus, I try not to practice what Thoreau called “resignation” in either my political or personal life.  Instead, I regularly try, and frequently fail, to savor the present whether I am working, playing, or occupying some intermediate space.

This moment, after all, is all we ever have.  So don’t waste it by not being here.

As the recently deceased poet Mary Oliver put it:

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

A good question indeed, and one that I’ll get around to answering any time now.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: