We celebrated a birthday in our family the other week. Some cake, some cards, a few presents. Nothing grand. I’m sure you do the same. Children’s birthdays are often more lavish affairs, as are so called important or landmark birthdays. These were decided by someone, once. 18, 21, 30, 40, 50 etc… I’m sure any of you celebrating some of these would like to have words with that person.
Our date of birth seems to be important. Yet it has a large element of chance. I wasn’t, but I’m sure if you were, born at one minute to, or one minute past midnight, you might wonder at the possible alternative? We are seldom born on the day we were ‘due’.
Yet our somewhat chance date of birth seems to be important. We are often asked for it as a kind of identifier or label as to who we are.
A relative of mine celebrated the wrong birthday for many years, until they were required to extract their birth certificate and realised they were born on a different day. It hadn’t changed who they were.
Many organisations such as banks, insurers, our employers even, use our date of birth as a key identifier of who we are. At my doctor’s surgery you can sign in on arrival using a terminal. The first question is ‘what is your date of birth?’ The system then presents a list of letters – the initials of surnames – presumably those people of that birth date, registered at the surgery or with an appointment that day?
At school we are batch educated, based on our date of birth. If you happen to be born late in August, you will be in one year group. Born a few days later, you will be in another. We even classify people by decade or period – child of the 60’s, generation z…
Yet our date of birth really says very little about who we are. It says no more than our job title does, or our place of residency, or the university we went to, even the name we were given.
Yet ask someone who they are, and this is often where they start. “I’m Graham, I’m forty three, I’m a taxidermist, I live in Cippenham with my wife and three children. We have two dogs.” Labels, just like a date of birth, we use to describe who we are.
Try this. Ask ‘Graham’ again. “Yes and who are you Graham?” This time you might get something like ‘I’m a family man and I love nature and the beauty of the natural world around us’.
Repeat again. It takes time, but gradually you may find out about ‘Graham’. What matters to him, what he values, what he believes in, his motivations, his dreams and much much more. You might find out who he is.
One of my favourite quotes is by Mark Twain
The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why
What if we celebrated that second day, not the first? Cake and party poppers for something more significant, more real, more impactful on our lives?
It seems to me that requires more celebration. Finding your reason for being, finding out who you are, is to be rejoiced over. Far more than the incidental day you began to breathe.