Tomorrow is my birthday.

More than any other celebration we initiate, birthdays change in nature as the years pass by. In childhood, birthdays are breathlessly awaited and, as the years mount, the greater the excitement. After the mid-life crisis is survived, however, the coming of birthdays denote something altogether different. Each birthday after that, psychologically, becomes another chip chiseled away.

It needn't be, though.

Chronological measurement of a person's life becomes a deterrent. Instead of permitting each person to compose his or her behavior and attitude based upon emotional, psychological and physical bases, we calendar lifetimes and impose expectations determined by others. As walls which impede freedom fall in all other areas of life, the wall erected around one's age is firmly held in place. The ultimate putdown is "act your age." Robert Browning encourages, "grow old along with me, the best is yet to be." He's right if one is allowed to live by his or her spirit instead of being forced to live within limits set by others.

The best way to celebrate a birthday is to stop counting years, and instead measure quality.

A birthday grows in importance when it becomes a temporary `stopping place' for evaluation. It can be a time to look back over the years lived. While many of us preserve the past as a Norman Rockwell scrapbook, preserving in memory those vignettes that we cherish, the past is best appreciated by seeing it as a landscape, as vast as the accumulation of years allow. It is best viewed as a landscape painting by Monet, where details are omitted to allow emotional impact of the whole. There are mountains and valleys, ravines and flowing streams, flowers and grasses, and trees and pathways. None of these is totally distinct from the whole. In a landscape past, we are protected from trying to live in the past by keeping in focus certain events and situations which will never be relived, but which keep us from appreciating the opportunities of the present. After all, it is `today' that will in the passing of years become the `good ol' days.'

There are those times which justify our returning to the past. By recalling `special times' we can reaffirm the present. By reviewing `lessons learned' we can prevent recurrent mistakes. To go into the past, however, for emotional fulfillment robs the present moment of its emotional rewards. The best thing about a Monet landscape past is that none of the rubbish and waste is visible. The rubbish and waste needs to be resolved, then forgotten. One of our godly blessings is that time heals and enhances. To one who is at peace with himself or herself, looking back brings smiles and satisfaction.

More importantly, a birthday marks the beginning of the future. Each passing year ought to strengthen our faith and hope. To live by the maxim, "the best is yet to be," is not a trick of denial, but it is a recognition that where it matters most, in the mind and in the soul, the foundation is more solidly laid for horizon days. Life is designed to get better as we pass from one period of life into the next.

Both the past and the future are moot if the present is not nurtured. The past, no matter how exciting, can never be reclaimed. The future, no matter how promising, is always, by definition, the day after today.... always at arm's length. But, today, aye!, there's where we rub memories and dreams into reality. Each dawn brings a fresh canvas and each dusk hangs the finished painting in the gallery. What we do between dawn and dusk is what life is all about. At the beginning of each day God places the brushes in our hands and sets before us the palette holding all possible choices. With the canvas upon the easel, we make the day. The choices are unlimited. Not only birthdays but all days should be defined by the shout, "carpe diem!"

Tomorrow's my birthday. The best way I can celebrate it is to `act my age.' Not by the definition of others, but by mine, and hopefully, it will be another masterly stroke upon the landscape painting of my life.

Birthday Y2K. Written by Rev. J. Vance Eastridge on January 12, 2000.

from Just Sitting Here Thinking