It was January 1, 1962, my mother’s due date. Relatives had trekked from Tennessee and Alabama to Norfolk, Virginia to be with my parents for my birth. Most were going to stay for a short visit, but my grandmother was going to stay with my mom for several weeks to help out. Leave it to me to be an introvert before I was even born. No way was I going to make my entrance into the world with all those people around. Everyone eventually left. Luckily, my father who was in the Navy, didn’t have to go back to sea quite yet, and on February 1, I made my arrival.
I’ve never given much thought to birthdays before, but turning 50 has thrown me. One minute I feel like celebrating; the next minute I want to pretend it’s not happening and I think I’ll just stay 49, thank you very much.
I casually mentioned my upcoming 50th birthday in my previous post, and I received a thoughtful comment from a fellow blogger (thank you, Doug!). He wrote: “If you were given the opportunity to honor a dear dear friend of yours who was let’s say, turning 40 this year, what are some of the things you might do to honor them? Take your time with that question….and after you’ve given it some thought….I’d like you to apply the same amount of creative energy and passion for yourself…no self-effacing allowed….”
I have taken his words to heart. One thing I’ve done in the past for people is make them a scrapbook. For example, on my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, I wrote to all of their friends (they have many!) and had them write a note and send a picture, which I compiled into a tribute album. Years ago I made myself a scrapbook that I call my “celebration album.” It has meaningful letters and cards that people have sent me over the years; quotes I like; and pictures of people I love. I haven’t kept it up-to-date, but it’s on my to-do list for the year. I took several hours today to look at it in depth, read each letter, and really let the words and images sink in.
On the subject of celebrating, here’s an excerpt from a letter from my uncle and Godfather, Sam Gerth (one who made the trek to Virginia 50 years ago), on the occasion of my confirmation: “Life is not all fun and games. There are many doubts and hurts and pitfalls. And the risks may seem frightening. But we never learn our limits of creative power unless we press on, for if we press on we know how to celebrate and what we are celebrating and why.”
This afternoon, I tried to let myself celebrate me–not just what I’ve accomplished, but who I am as a person. I tried to not be self-effacing, as Doug noted that I tend to be. I read cards and letters from previous clients. One card had the inscription, “There are moments when one person make a special difference that no one else can make.” Although I’ve had extensive education and great training as a therapist, I think people not only liked me, but also made sometimes profound changes in their lives, because they rightly sensed I truly cared. I let myself feel deeply blessed to have had these experiences.
Tonight Greg and I went to my parents’ house and they told stories about me when I was a baby and we looked at old photo albums. You could see their faces light up as if it were just yesterday. They talked about what an exciting and special time it was. There’s something about a baby!
When I worked at a hospital, every time a baby was born, a lullaby would play over the loudspeaker. In my current office building, it’s pretty much a given that when someone is on maternity leave, the mom will bring in the baby at some point. Everyone runs out of their offices to see it, hold it, and hear the stories.
All of this pondering about birthdays and babies, led me right back to the topic of this blog: self-compassion. What if we could nurture ourselves as we would a newborn baby? What might that feel like? What might that look like? How might our lives be different? What if we allowed ourselves to be excited about life, not just when it is new, but also when it is seasoned.
I remember when my own son was born–the powerful and intense feelings of love and attachment. Tonight, I looked at a photograph of myself looking into his eyes when he was only a few days old. I was so young, and so enthralled with the perfection of this little guy. Tonight, I saw that same look on my parents’ faces as they recalled my birth. There’s something about a baby!
Barbara Quick, an author and editor of my first book, once sent me one of her poems. I don’t remember in what context she sent it to me, but I loved this line and have it written in my celebration album, along with pictures of my son as a baby. “I never understood before how an infant is the natural symbol of redemption: everything sundered is made whole again, every mistake forgiven.”
Once again, there’s something about a baby!