It just so happens that my birthday was this past week.
“What do you want to do to celebrate?” my wife asked me a few days prior to the occasion.
“Crawl into a hole until it’s over?”
She scowled in the concerned yet corrective fashion that I’ve discovered to be one of her spiritual gifts.
They’re a strange occasion, birthdays. I like celebrating other people’s, just not my own. But my wife is sweet and my family dear. So we planned some modest get-togethers with friends and kin to rejoice in my ability to breathe for another calendar year. Because the ones we love deserve the chance to love someone too.
But I was driving back from a meeting on said day and slowed down to cross over a speed bump. As I did, I a small object darted in front of the car. And as the car slowed I noticed it was a leaf, browned and crisp, it’s edges curled and bowed as if in pain, though somewhat worshipfully at the same time. There were no cars behind me so I stopped just short of the speed bump and watched it for a moment.
That’s when I first noticed that fall’s colors have begun their show. With a quick glance along the roadside I saw flashes of red, yellow and orange set in contrast against a crisp blue sky. And as I watched, I felt it: the first breeze of autumn, a brisk touch of wind blowing down from the north that whispered “something’s changing, changing to the way it was before”, a breeze of time passing, arriving and eternity all at the same time. And when that autumn breeze hit the leaf the wind pushed it along the surface of the concrete like fog across water. It moved, then stopped, moved, then stopped, dancing at the wind’s every beckon.
I often wonder how history will remember me, if it will at all. I may not enjoy birthday parties, but I like to be remembered. And I’ll like too someday when I’m gone. Wouldn’t we all? Isn’t there something intricately humane about the ache within our hearts to leave something on this earth beyond fading letters etched in a tombstone?
Not because I want to be remembered per say, not because I want to be celebrated. But because there is an ache within me that needs to be passed on and inherited, an ache that points to something beyond which should be celebrated.
So someday, perhaps when I’m old and just about senile enough to get away with it, I’ll let my wife throw me a great, big birthday party. There’ll be lots of people, old friends, family and neighbors and inevitably quite a few that I’m not sure I really know. And when the chatter is subdued, when I’ve drunk just enough Scotch and the right moment arrives, I’ll stand up and raise my glass to say something like:
I’ve spent my whole life looking for a chance to make it into history books, earn a fortune, find happiness…all that hogwash. And here I am back where I started, in a room of people, and you are what I call ‘friends.’ And a hundred or so years from now no one will know any of our names, our quirks, what made us laugh till we snorted or what made us shed that lonely tear and look away. No one will remember and no one will care, especially not about me.
But then again, perhaps, someday someone might write something about me. And since you are my friends and it’s my birthday I want you to know how I’d like it done.
I decided several years ago that if anyone ever cares that much then I want them to write a song. And when they write my song I hope they make it simple and true, nothing too fancy but something done well. And I ask that they make it something someone can dance too, something like a leaf blown across the road by autumn’s first breeze.
And if, somehow, someday, I am remembered like the passing of the seasons and it lifts someone else and moves them forward….well, then, that’s all the remembrance I need. It’s all I ask.
Eat, drink, laugh, dance…cry if you need. But please, don’t celebrate me; celebrate that which is beyond me. It’ll be better party that way, a better life.
And if you must remember me, I ask that it be in song. And when you write my song, remember the leaf on the road and autumn’s first breeze.
Thanks for coming. It’s been a swell birthday.”
And sure, no one will get it. But I’ll have Scotch in my hand and I’ll be old and senile. So who cares?
It’s my birthday.