I love birthdays because they remind us to have fun. For my forty-fourth, I decided to celebrate with four different activities.
The most well-attended was puppet making in the park. To pull this off, it helps to have a mom who makes puppets and has a studio full of colorful supplies, from yarn to fabric to sequins. Awakening people’s liveliness takes little more than setting the plastic bins full of crafty goodness on a picnic table and inviting everyone to begin.
No one hesitated. No one claimed she wasn’t creative. Everyone simply picked up a paper bag or a toilet paper roll and began to construct a being that had never existed before. We had dogs and cats, a mythical rainbow animal and a magician, even a fellow who could raise his bushy purple eyebrows.
When it came time to leave, every guest said, “That was so much fun.”
Our culture often limits fun, both in importance and variety. As adults, we’re told that our responsibilities take priority over our play time and that only a few forms of play are acceptable, some of them more harmful than enjoyable.
But fun is a powerful force. It awakens our souls. It puts us in touch with God’s creativity flowing through us, and so it connects us to our selves, to our divinity.
We are the result of God having a great time. The Big Bang did not arise from a sense of obligation. When divinity decided to have a party about fourteen billion years ago and see what this existence thing was all about, a great outpouring of love and joy set this universe in motion.
That outpouring hasn’t stopped. We are the current manifestation of the divine party that has always been and will always be. Let’s have some fun.
Birthdays can be a time for reflection, but this year I’m opting for celebration. Some cool things that happened on or near my birthday:
• My van erupted into spontaneous song on hearing news of the occasion.
• A friend sent me a picture of her smiling, swinging baby with good wishes.
• Three friends from two very different times in my life met each other in Johannesburg, South Africa.
• My team won the over-30s division of the local soccer tournament.
• I discovered someone in my new office has the same birthday I do. As a result, we got both a birthday breakfast and a birthday lunch. I think that’s what they mean when they say nirvana.
• A friend baked me some healthy yet surprisingly tasty cookies, which is particularly impressive because I am generally opposed to combining the concepts health and dessert.
• My mom took me out to dinner, and we had completely unhealthy chocolate torte with hazelnut mousse. Yum.
• Another friend sent me this blog post by someone who spent her birthday doing random acts of kindness.
• A number of people wrote cheerful texts.
• My dad called.
• The answer to one of life’s great mysteries—who buys Christmas ornaments in July?—was answered when my mom and sister bought me some I’d been eyeing in San Diego.
According to this list, what’s going to make the next year enjoyable is chocolate cake. That and the people who surround, nurture, and support me, who make me laugh and do me perhaps the greatest favor any of us can do for each other—keep me in mind, whether they are near or far.
And all of this for someone who only remembers others’ birthdays about fifty percent of the time. Thanks, everyone.
A very important event happened recently: my friend Mary Ann turned ninety. I hope I can be as full of life on my next birthday as she was on her nintieth.
Every time Mary Ann sees you she tells you, “Well I think you’re just marvelous,” and she is so clearly delighted with exactly who you are that you start to believe it a little. You also start to think maybe you could tell others the same thing.
Mary Ann collects people. She almost never walks past someone without greeting him or her, regardless of whether she knows the person or not. There must have been more than fifty people at her birthday party, young and old and most ages in between. To honor her sense of adventure, the candles on the cake were tiny sparklers.
She has survived the death of her husband and all her biological children with her good humor and ability to enjoy life intact. She appreciates beautiful things and supports the people who make them.
She is losing her sight and has had to move into an assisted living apartment, a dangerous environment for a free spirit. The first year or so, she struggled with the transition, but every time she started a conversation by complaining, she ended it by telling me why she was lucky to be there.
During a prayer at the party, a friend of hers, in trying to describe what about the birthday girl she was grateful for said, “I’m grateful for her being so Mary Ann.” And I’m grateful for such a fine example of how being deeply ourselves and enjoying the heck out of it may be the best way to spend our lives. Thank you, Mary Ann.