I awoke this morning surrounded by the presence and memory of my sister, Christine, who died seven weeks ago from a cancer that had gone underground for the better part of a decade, only to snake its way back into her liver. Nothing to do, but join her, support and lift her as she made her way to the next part of her journey with two last gasps of her jaundiced body.
At the end, she was surrounded by an amazing group of women, fiercely loyal and loving. I called them her angels. One of them phoned me from the hospital in Santa Fe one Thursday in February. By Saturday evening I was standing in Christine’s room, two of her angels present, knowing that time would be short. One week later she crossed over….and this morning, there she was again.
Today is my birthday, and Chris’ presence feels like a visitation. And in her physical absence, I wonder why birthdays have always been important to me. For some, a birthday is something to be dreaded – a harbinger of old age and a declining body, or a reminder that we’re ultimately alone as we face the limitations of time. For others, it’s the ache that accompanies the realization that we’ve no one to celebrate with.
I don’t remember any birthday parties as a child; I don’t recall doing very much with my family in those early years. I believe that at an early age, I created and swallowed the story that I didn’t matter, I didn’t count. I’ve always feared being left behind, simply dispensable and invisible. Perhaps that’s why birthdays have always been so important as an adult, not only mine, but others’ as well.
During the first years of life, we need to know, at least for a period of time, that we are the center of someone’s (usually mom’s) universe. They call this the narcissistic phase of development. If we don’t get it then, we can wind up seeking it forever. And even for those who got this during those early months of life, birthdays, I’m coming to believe, can give us a yearly opportunity to recharge a healthy sense of Self. Once a year, if we’re open to it and if we have our own “angels”, our sense of mattering is renewed on our natal day.
Discovering that we matter, that our presence in the world – at least to a select few – makes a difference is all important. Birthdays have become for me the stage upon which we can celebrate a life and, in so doing, celebrate Life itself. We rebirth the meaning of a birthday.
I chose to be alone today. Yet, texts, phone and Facebook messages remind me that my own angels remember me, remind me that I count to them. And don’t we all need to matter? If not, why bother?
In my solitude today, I’m not alone, nor forgotten. In my solitude, I know that I am separate and deeply connected at the same time to earthly angels and invisible visitations. Birthdays, then, are clearly about so much more than presents. They are about Presence…reminding each other that we’re in this together and that each of us truly matters. When we remember that we matter, we experience what we call Love, the force that connects us all in a meaningful web. And knowing that Love abides, hope endures more readily.
Happy birthday…whenever it may be.