Micah, my nephew, turned one the other day. We had a small celebration for his birthday and it made me think about what those moments can and should mean.
I've never been a big on birthdays. The focused attention often feels uncomfortable and the gift-giving arbitrary. Perhaps having a summer birthday — outside the fanfare that attends the birthdays of our youth during a school year — shaped my view of them. In any event, while I try to use my birthday to reflect on my life, I find it a strange moment to invite others into.
Micah's birthday forced a turn in how I think about birthdays. I've been too selfish thinking about the day means to me. After all, birthdays mark the passing of the time in an individual's life, but they also mark the birth of new identities for others. A birthday is a rippling metamorphosis that adds to a woman the identity of mother; to a husband, father; to parents, grandparent; to brothers, uncle. Our birthdays, then, are celebrations not just of the passing of time, but of our new and renewed identities. The tangled web of relationships is ever further complicated, enriched, and strengthened. Sometimes it takes time for us to truly accept the invitation of our new identities, but it's undeniable that the invitation to be transformed is there.
Birthdays aren't just, or even primarily, about you. The next time you pause to reflect on the last revolution you made around the sun, don't forget to include the community of people whose lives you changed just by being born.