My birthday is in January. So is our church secretary's, our priest's, and half a dozen (or more) members of our parish. Plus another five people in my family.
Yesterday we had a surprise cake-and-ice-cream mini party at the church after a noon service--this was to celebrate the secretary's and the priest's birthdays. Then someone asked me when mine is--or was--and I admitted it's coming up in another four or five days.
Some people said, "I never celebrate my birthday." I wondered why not . . . do they not want to recognize that another year has passed? Does the number of their age cause them distress?
I actually like having a birthday. It reminds me that I'm alive. That I was born into a large extended family, some of whom are still living and with whom I have contact from time to time.
Yes, I like having a birthday. But then, I also liked spinach when I was a kid, and school, and reading all the time. Maybe I'm not a good example in the question of liking birthdays.
What strikes me about birthdays is the subject of identity. Who am I? Where did I come from? Who were my family?
The trouble with those questions is: They're all about "I." In the 50s we called that navel-gazing, an image that succinctly defines narcissism.
Try it this way: Who do other people say I am?
This question occurred to me when I read my morning devotions yesterday. Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do people say I am?" The Rev. Sallie Schisler, an Episcopalian priest, elaborates:
"No computer program, social networking algorithm, or guessing game reveals the true nature of anyone. We learn about ourselves and others through relationships . . . . This is true for all of us. We reveal ourselves to one another through time spent together at meals, on mission trips, working on projects that matter to us. We learn about one another through shared work, laughter, and tears. There is no shortcut to being truly known."
In the small photos scattered throughout this post, you'll see a few members of my family.
Here are my mother and father and me. (I'm in the middle, of course; aren't we all the center of our own universe?)
My mother is about 25 in her picture. My father is 50. I am in first grade, 6 going on 7.
My identity is directly connected to these two people, my parents. They were hard-working people, always busy; had high standards for themselves as well as for others. The phrase, "Anything worth doing is worth doing well," may not have been spoken, but the message was lived out every single day by my parents.
Aunt Virginia was always somewhat serious, more philosophical than her five sisters, but she had a great sense of humor. I felt closer to her than any of the others--maybe because she had no little girls of her own, only two little boys. Because she was the youngest of the ten children, she lived into the early years of this century.
Aunt Sara was a schoolteacher. She taught eight grades in a one-room country school for many years; it was an elegant brick building, and in memory it has long windows to let in sunlight, and shiny wood floors, and a little room with shelves for books. My mother and I often visited Aunt Sara; I loved going to her house because she had a piano and I could pick out tunes I knew.
These two women helped make me who I am today--Aunt Virginia always had time for me, was never impatient. From her I learned it's all right to be quiet. Aunt Sara encouraged my love of reading and bought me books for Christmas or birthday gifts. From her I learned education is important for everyone, and it's all right to do well in school.
I have no photographs of my far-back ancestors, but family stories from both sides reveal great-grandparents in Germany, France, The Netherlands, and all of Great Britain. These people I never knew are--literally--part of who I am today.
Who am I? Depends on who you talk to--what relationship I had with the person you ask--how reliable their memory is--whether they liked me, tolerated me, had little time for me.
Fortunately, my well-being doesn't depend on everyone else's opinion of me. (And that was a long, hard lesson to learn. Trust me.)
The main thing to remember is this: My identity--your identity--anyone's identity isn't static. Who I am, who you are, in any one moment is, well, momentary. We're always a work in progress.
I find that exciting.
|The beat goes on . . . .|