On birthdays, both happy and not

I celebrated my birthday this past Saturday. The day marked the beginning of
my 33d year on this earth, and it didn’t depress me a bit. There have been times
when I have found June 26 to be a day more appropriately devoted to mourning
than
celebration, but this year I felt content about my life and excited about the
future.

In my childhood and adolescence, my birthday actually marked the passage of
significant life events, mainly the graduation from one level of schooling
to the next. Since my birthday fell during summer vacation, it always signified
to me that one chapter of my life had closed while another was about to begin.
That changed during my third (of seven) year of undergraduate study. At the
age of 20, I could not imagine my life going anywhere good, or really anywhere
at all. Four difficult years of college had brought me no closer to earning
a degree than two good years would have (due to a few school transfers, a change
of major, a slew of bad grades, and some personal difficulties). I had been
working at low-paying manual labor jobs. I had one friend who lived a thousand
miles away (2,500 km, I think) but none where I lived. I felt like I had no
real home, having moved too many times to grow roots. You know the uncertain
man James mentions
whose doubts cause him to be tossed about like foam on the waves? That was
me. At that point in my life, a birthday served only to remind
me that my previous year had been as stagnant as a land-locked, algae-filled
swamp, and that the next year held little promise of anything better.

I remember one particular birthday—my 23d, I think—when the future Mrs. Happy
took me to a Cajun restaurant for my birthday. At that time, it had not occurred
to me that she would make an amazing wife even though I already loved her ("as
a friend," I insisted even to myself) more than I had ever loved anyone. She
beamed for the entire evening, such was her joy for life and for me. The sight
of her almost sufficed to enliven my pathetic existence, and even though I
appreciated her efforts I was too caught up in my own perceived misery
to enjoy the attention. The cycle of yearly stagnation and birthday depression
repeated itself for five years.

If I remember correctly, 1997 (No. 25) was the first happy birthday of my
adult life. My Happy Best Friend had earned a Bachelor’s degree, and I would
received mine in December of that year. We held hands on the day of her graduation,
sort of coming to a mutual realization of a love deeper than friendship. I
still had no ideas about a career or life after college, but I had grown enough
in faith to trust the future to God. Since then, I have made a conscious effort
to progress in life every year so that the arrival of my birthday would mark
a sort of milestone the way it did in my childhood, only better. I still experience
doldrums, of course, but one of the joys of my marriage is that I have someone
to help me out of the stagnant times. I also have the privilege of helping
her out of her own funks when they occur. It’s true what the book of Ecclesiastes says:
"Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For
if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone
when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together,
they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?" I thank God for her. She
makes my birthdays happier than ever.

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