Happy birthday to me, and many more

Child from 60s blowing out candles on birthday cake, surrounded by friends

My friends look miserable, don’t they?

I imagine that, even as a young child, I disliked my birthday. I don’t remember much, but knowing me, I probably worried about whether the kids I’d invited would show up and, once they did, whether they’d have a good time.

As I got a bit older, I began to dread The Birthday, probably because I was so afraid of dying. And I wasn’t even sick yet. Each passing year I was another step closer to the grave. I never much felt like celebrating, and would hem and haw about a get together until the day passed without fanfare. Let’s just skip my 40th birthday, which fell in the middle of a three-week hospital stay. Just in case you were wondering, candles don’t stay up in Jell-O.

But my perspective on birthdays changed when I was diagnosed with leukemia, and then almost died. It was a miracle that I was alive to celebrate my 48th year. Thereafter, I decided to shift my focus from when I was going to die to how long I was going to live. Birthdays became a reason for celebration.

This year’s celebration has already started: the cards and emails have been flooding in, the well wishers phoning. Today, as I turn 51, we are heading out of town for the weekend on our “consolation vacation”. We won’t be going as far or as long as we had planned to go on last month’s cancelled trip, but we’ll be away, which will be very nice. I am gout and hematoma free, so we should be able to travel unimpeded. I will even be carrying my own bag, if not Judy’s too, since I am not so easily bruised anymore. Oh, and I’m leaving the cancer at home; no room in the suitcase.

We have a reservation at a lovely restaurant tonight so I can indulge in a rarity: a high-sodium meal. Barring a special that blows me off my feet, I already know what I’ll be ordering. I like to plan ahead for some things.

Finally, I can assure you there will be cake involved. Even during all those years that I was a birthday hater, I remained a staunch birthday-cake lover. Carefully selected, changing with the years–usually mocha in some form or another now that I think of it–this perfect cake is always something to celebrate.

Unfortunately, I won’t be home to receive your good wishes today, but feel free to leave a message. We can plan a get together when J. and I are back. Who says a birthday has to be limited to 24 hours?

If you’re in the birthday-hating camp I once was, I urge you to consider J.’s wise words: “The alternative isn’t great.” Indeed, it’s not.

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