Summertime is upon us and with it, the the 241st birthday of the United States on July 4th. Creamy potato salad, grilled burgers and dripping popsicles will probably be on the menu; friends and families might gather to play tag, swim in cold mountain creeks, or simply doze off on a hammock, and deafening booms and enchanting, cascading, shimmering colors will fill the night sky … it is quite a birthday celebration, and it happens every year!
But how do we as individuals celebrate our birthdays? Do our best four-footed, or two-gilled pals brighten our day? Or is it by meeting a close friend or two for a swanky dinner or home-cooked meal? Or is being pummeled by giggling children at dawn who bring breakfast in bed, complete with spilled coffee and slightly burnt toast the best celebration ever?
Unfortunately, for many people, birthdays are simply another day to be sick or homeless or alone.
Jane was very aware of this loneliness and was adept at making other people feel special, so it was no surprise when she began baking a monthly birthday cake for a local ‘soup kitchen’. Jane would bake and frost a cake for the folks who were celebrating a birthday during that particular month – complete with a candle and singing. She often talked about how important it is to humanize those impersonal labels – homeless, poverty, illness. And she believed that to be forgotten, to have no one to celebrate your birthday, your existence – that doesn’t always have to be the case. It is possible to do something about it.
Family friend and former co-worker Alice works with developmentally challenged children, and came up with her own caring way to let her students know that they are treasured: She makes little goodie bags for each of them on their birthdays. With a trip to the dollar-store, she is able to fill one of the 3-for-$1 gift bags with a snack cake, noisemaker or toy, colorful pencil and small notebook, and candy or gum. There is always a personal note inside the birthday card and a big hug for the birthday boy or girl.
Although fireworks and ice cream and games in the lake are fun ways to recognize the country’s birthday, it is easy enough to celebrate our fellow human being’s birthdays in smaller ways – a birthday cake, a card, a hug – that are no less important.
Please feel free to share the ways in which each of us can let our neighbors know that we are glad that they were born. Thank you!