“Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.” ~ Author Unknown
I just had a birthday. The number attached to my birthday did not end in a zero or even a five, so in terms of a milestone, it was not significant, however the importance of celebrating another year, or even another day, upright and breathing, came to me this year in a moment of realization that stole my breath and punctured my imagination.
When I was in kindergarten, I made friends with a girl named Jane. She was tall like me, and wore braids like me and we both liked boys which got us into trouble in the first grade, when we used chalk to write a message on the sidewalk outside our school. The message was “Laurie + Larry” and “Jane + Bob.” Our punishment included missing recess and staying after school. We were also ordered to apologize to Larry and Bob and clean up our graffiti, but I think that experience alone cemented a friendship that lasted for decades. Jane and her family moved away before we started high school but we kept in touch through phone calls and greeting cards for many more years. She came to my wedding. We exchanged pictures of our kids. She passed through our hometown a few times to revisit the birthplace of childhood memories and she always included time for the two of us in her plans. Because Jane’s birthday was just a few days before mine, it was easy for me to remember. I usually sent her a card or a quick text. Her email address and phone number are still in my phone, but communication had dwindled over the years. After a while, my cards and texts went unanswered, but I didn’t think to question it. Time passes quickly, and I was busy living my life and assumed Jane was too, but this year, I decided to Google her name on the day of her birth. Maybe I’d find a new address and send her belated birthday greetings. Maybe we could re-connect and reminisce about the old days. As I typed her name into the Google Search box, I imagined many things that culminated in the re-establishment of a friendship, but I didn’t, for a second, expect to find her obituary. The shock of this realization, stung suddenly and with force. A rush of thoughts blew by in rapid succession. What happened? How did I not know? What was the last thing I said to her? Why did she die? Why am I still living?
A few days after my discovery of Jane’s passing, my birthday arrived and I was lovingly greeted by my husband and two dogs. By 6 AM my first phone call of the day came from our youngest son, and then a birthday video arrived from our daughter and her family. By the end of the day I had received many warm wishes; I was serenaded by a complete stranger, and I shared dessert with friends. It was a very special day enhanced by the warm spirit of the people in my life but thoughts of Jane never drifted far from my consciousness.
Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand new hours to live. What a gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy and happiness to ourselves and others.”
Every single day of the year marks the arrival of a new life on earth. And each day in our calendar someone’s time here expires. The number of days we breathe between arrival and departure are a mystery but how we choose to invest our time is not. I’d like to spend my days with positive thoughts, choosing positive actions, with mostly-positive people. I want to smile more than I frown. I want to feel the warmth of love, and in turn, be a conduit of comfort to others.
This year, for my birthday, I received a valuable gift. It was not wrapped in colorful paper; it did not spring from a cake. It was not adorned with wax candles or accompanied by music. This gift came a few days early, and it arrived on my computer screen, with the photo of someone I love smiling back in black and white. This present was a reminder that every day is worthy of celebration. Each moment is deserving of our attention. Every breath is a gift. A valuable legacy from a dear old friend. Thank you, Jane.