I am not longer 26, or even 27 for that matter. This is a post I wrote a few years ago and it never made it out of drafts for some reason. Now that it is almost a month since my 30th birthday I figure it’s an appropriate time to post this. My 30th birthday was just as quiet as past ones, perhaps even more so since it came on the heels of my wedding. Things are certainly a bit different: I no longer teach small children, and that someone I care about very much has become my husband. I still have that newer confidence and understanding of who I am, but I no longer wonder what God has in store for me, since my path in life has clearly become that of a wife, and hopefully soon a mother. However, my thoughts and sentiments on this topic are still very much the same.
I have now entered into my last week of being 26 years of age. 26 years and 300-something days ago (I am not very good at math), I was born on September 28 in Waterbury, Connecticut. A very short autobiography I wrote as an early teenager states this fact, so it must be true, though to be quite honest, I was rather occupied with taking my first breaths, so I cannot remember the actual occurrence. My parents, however, assure me that this is the case, and I shall have to trust them.
Looking back on the twenty-sixth year of my life, I can say it has been a good one. I cannot say that of all the years of my life, though at the same time I cannot completely say that I have had any particularly terrible years…it has been a good life on the whole. But my twenty-sixth year brought me a new contentment and confidence that I had never known before, an understanding of who I am, and, even though I still have no idea what God wants of me, a trust in the unknown of where I am going. At the age of twenty-six I learned to trust and not worry too much, and I was given the gift of someone I care for very much. At the age of twenty-six I learned that I am kind of not too bad at being a teacher of small people, and at the age of twenty-six I finally published my first book. It has certainly not been a bad year.
And so it is with fond farewells that I look to the next year of my life, the twenty-seventh year. I have always loved birthdays. In college, I had several friends who did their best to make sure no one knew it was their birthday, and when that day came around, they would hide out as much as possible. That was never the case with me. Although I by no means “tooted my own horn,” as the saying goes, I was always happy to share my birthday joy with my friends. One year while I was living in Virginia, I was all alone for my birthday, and was feeling very depressed. (As it happened, I made a very good friend that day when a coworker heard that I didn’t have any plans and asked me to go to dinner to celebrate my birthday.) I do not like being the center of attention, but celebrating something wonderful with your friends is absolutely necessary.
Growing up, birthdays were always a big deal in my family. We didn’t throw the big parties that other families threw; ours were quiet family celebrations. Things got started the week before the birthday. The other members of the family would go out together to buy presents for the birthday person, which was always a great deal of fun, despite the shopping options in Tehachapi being limited to thrift stores, antique stores, and Kmart. A great deal of secrecy would ensue from that point, and well-meaning younger brothers would sometimes slip hints of what a present was. (I am thinking in particular of when at the age of 16 I got my ears pierced, and my little brother told me that he could not tell me what my present was, but that it was something that went in my ears.)
The night before the birthday, the living room got cleaned, always a process in the Zehnder household, and after the birthday person went to bed it was decorated with balloons and a “happy birthday” sign (often handmade by a sibling), and the presents laid out on the coffee table. The morning of the birthday, we would all wake with much excitement, and sit in the living room shaking and poking the wrapped presents until our parents decided to wake up and make their way to the living room. Somehow they never seemed to enjoy being woken at the crack of dawn to open presents. After a singing of “Happy Birthday”, usually prolonged in an annoying manner by a certain head of the house, presents were opened.
The rest of the day was spent much as any other day was spent, but there was always the excitement of new gifts, and if your birthday happened to be during the school year, you didn’t have to do any school. Part of the delight of a school-year birthday was seeing your siblings doing their work, and you not having to do anything at all. Then you got to choose your favorite meal for dinner, and your favorite kind of cake, always home-made.
That was it. There was no big party with dozens of people, although sometimes we had grandparents or cousins over for dinner. Still, birthdays are some of my happiest memories. Perhaps it comes from being one of seven children. When there are that many of you, being the center of attention for a day can be quite pleasant. But as an adult, I think birthdays are wonderful for a different reason. It’s always lovely to get presents; I am the sort of person who finds gift-giving one of the better expressions of love, not through any sense of materialism, but because when I love someone I want to give them things. But it’s more than that. Birthdays are wonderful because they celebrate you. You, that amazingly complex thing called a human being. A person. Once you did not exist, and then you were conceived and brought into being. There is nothing more amazing than that. A birthday is a celebration of that being-ness, a celebration of the fact that God loved you so much that he formed you and brought you into life.
And each year you (hopefully) grow in wisdom, and in understanding, and experience more of the wonders of the world. And at each birthday, you are one year closer to eternal life. Closer to death, yes, but hopefully closer to a joy far greater than the marking of the day you were born. That, I believe, is something worth celebrating.