Today is my birthday. Sometime during my mid-twenties, I began to lose track of my age. In part, I’ve never been great with numbers — calculating them, or keeping them straight in my head — so that must be part of it. But, I’ve also realized that, for me, the number of candles on the cake is just not overly important.
I’m feeling very aware of the fact that we’re all about one year out, give or take a couple of months, from a remarkably changed world due to COVID-19, and the pandemic that swept the globe throughout the past year.
Last year, I celebrated my birthday on the Friday at the end of the first week my husband stayed and worked from home and my children began participating in online-learning. We canceled the babysitter we had lined up for my birthday, and our plans to go out for dinner, Michigan mandating instead that we stay home. I’m kind of a homebody, so I didn’t let it bother me. I took a lot of time that day to prepare a labor intensive, hearty soup and homemade bread. I also made a chocolate birthday cake with cherries that I had been craving for quite some time. I felt bolstered by contemplative gratitude despite the unease creeping around outside our stay-at-home doors.
My family ate the very good meal, and I opened some gifts. For an unknown reason only my son understood, he wrapped a banana as my birthday present, and when I opened it we laughed and laughed. Then, after dinner, we joined a group FaceTime chat with friends from church. It was the first, and certainly not the last, time that we would gather this way with friends during the long-stretching pandemic. I turned 44 years old last year.
All throughout the day last year, I kept thinking to myself, “This is a remarkable year. Certainly this year I will remember how old I am.” Plus, turning 44, a nice repeating number, I imagined my brain might store it away with greater ease. I was wrong.
About a month ago, knowing that my birthday would come next in our string of family celebrations, I tried to recall how old I was and, like always, I had to turn to my husband and consult about my age.
Truly, it has never been about the number of candles on my cake, the number of times around the sun. For me, I think it has been more about the cake itself, more about the journey.
There is a definite forward momentum to our living, our journey. And, if there is anything that this oddball year of life helped me see about our constant journeying onward, it would be that the momentum of the journey had become for many, a churning, churlish race. And subsequently, being told to stay home was like being bucked from a horse, flung into the atmosphere, and landing with a crash upon our exhausted faces.
Many learned to work-from-home among an armful of niggling, new frustrations. For some sectors, work outside continued as always, but with an onslaught of new practices and precautions. Yet, throughout the world, as more people than ever sat-in-place at home we saw our momentum change.
In my own life, and in the lives of others, I understand this year to have been painful, terrifying, isolating, a rude, eye-opening awakening, tedious, and traumatic. But I also understand that we have called it tolerable, surprising, comforting, good, and even life-giving. I’m not saying that we’ve all had one kind of a year. I’m saying many of us got a good, new look at our life, and I’m acknowledging that the momentum of our journey may have changed.
I already mentioned the birthday meal that I prepared last year as a gift to myself and my family. The second thing I did last year, on my birthday, was write an essay, not that dissimilar to this one. Writing that short essay was also a gift to myself, knowing that even if I wouldn’t remember my age, I was certain I would remember the birthday itself and how it took place during a critical season of change in the world.
I went back and read that essay this morning, and I’d like to share the closing thoughts that I wrote on March 20, 2020:
Today is my birthday. My coronavirus birthday? And I’d like it to feel like a normal day? Oh, boy.
Yesterday was a hard day. Maybe I was anticipating today, wanting to reach for a normal day but knowing that even by design I wouldn’t be able to force or even determine a normal day. All of this week I’ve, in fact, been trying to act normal. I’ve thought a lot about creating our “new normal.”
Then yesterday I overstepped some unseen boundary, and I was overwhelmed. The news overwhelmed me. The decisions overwhelmed me. The constant proximity of my beloved family overwhelmed me. And let me tell you, trying to figure out how to connect to a remote taekwondo class, and the zoom STEM classroom, the online worship service, the relational chat groups, the violin lessons via FaceTime … all in the name of maintaining normalcy … it overwhelmed me. Oh, boy, did it overwhelm me.
I am trying to do all the important things like stay healthy and make sure my children stay educated. I’m trying to remember to laugh, but acknowledging that it is ok to cry, and then stopping to just breathe. All of it is overwhelming even before we notice the grief over lost experiences and fears surrounding a wildly changed world.
So, I’m looking for a normal birthday.
The only actual normal thing that I have been lately maintaining is the two mile walk with my fluffy, stick-carrying dog each morning. Alone. That has been my normal, mundane kindness to myself in this changing world. But, guess what? This morning, compared to yesterday morning, I saw an onslaught of tiny purple crocuses just about to open. I saw forsythia bushes, on the verge of a bright, bursting yellow. I saw a fat robin looking down at me from its perch. This morning I saw spring coming, and that is right on time, normal. My birthday comes at springtime each and every year. And this morning, doing normal, I found normal. It is a gift that I cherish on my coronavirus birthday. I see that God still controls the seasons. And, like only God can, God is making all things new, year after year.
I celebrate my birthday today, and while the world changes I put my trust in God’s effortless rhythm of making all things new.
Photos by American Heritage Chocolate and David Holifield on Unsplash.