They Say it’s Your Birthday

There comes a time, maybe as you near the ripe old age of 22, when celebrating your birthday loses some of its luster.

If you think back, way, way back, birthdays were over the top. As a little kid, it was all about the presents, and maybe the cake. Oh, and the presents. For sure, the presents.

But as we grew older, the celebration of each passing year became more about the expanded opportunities and experiences that life had in store. When we turned 13, OMG… we became a teenager! We could have stopped there, because at that point we already knew absolutely everything. If you didn’t think so, you could just ask us – we’d tell you. 🙂

Then we turned 16, and we got our hands on that shiny new driver’s license. At that point in our lives it was the ultimate jailbreak, the epitome of independence, which, in our ultra-knowledgeable opinion, had previously been unfairly denied. So we had absolute knowledge *and* independence… what could go wrong? Or remember turning 18, when we became a legal adult? Ah, the age of majority. We gained a bunch of new rights, and with them, some new responsibilities – although we all knew people who, unfortunately, failed to realize these were a package deal.

Then, the one everyone talks about… 21. By then, this is the one that feels like you’ve been waiting your whole life to celebrate. And celebrate we did, with some first-time experiences, including our first trip to the bar and our very first sip of alcohol, right? I mean, these were firsts at 21, Right?? 🙂 Regardless, whether you were livin’ large in corporate, kickin’ it hard on campus, or still trying to figure it all out on mom’s couch, when you were 21 you were on top of the world.

But after that? 22… well, that’s somewhat anticlimactic. Ooohhh, 25. I can rent a car on my own and I get a discount on my insurance… man, I can hardly contain myself. 🙂 Or 30? Hmm, remember how old those thirty-year-old people were back when you knew everything at 13? We’re going to celebrate that? And then, just like that, they all seem to blend together. Your birthday becomes just another day.

Today (March 16, 2023) I get to celebrate another birthday. This one doesn’t just blend in though. I no longer simply take them for granted. It’s not just another day.

Just shy of two years ago, when I was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, an incurable, 100% fatal disease, my perspective on this day, and every day, changed. Being told you are terminally ill will do that to you. I am here, for now, to tell you it shouldn’t be that way.

It should not take a terrible, life-changing medical diagnosis to have you celebrate your birthday, or for that matter, appreciate every single day.

Fortunately, I have always tried to embrace the philosophy that there was something amazing about every day – if you simply looked for it. I already acknowledged that we were not guaranteed tomorrow. I was already committed to not taking any days for granted. But my diagnosis forced me to realize that I wasn’t always looking hard enough. I may have gotten lazy. I had sometimes failed to do my very best to find the amazing in every day.

When I was diagnosed, I was told the average life expectancy was two to four years. With some medical advances and drugs, maybe I could squeeze out another 10-15%, extending that maybe another three to eight months. My research also showed me that life expectancy and quality of life are far from the same, and, sadly, I’d lose the latter before the end of the former.

When faced with the enormity of this brutal fact, you start counting the remaining Birthdays. And the remaining Anniversaries. And, really, every day.

When you’re 21, with a life expectancy of 77, you just naively assume there will be a lot of birthdays left. But when you realize, with the absolute knowledge of a newly minted 13-year-old, that you are not guaranteed another one of these birthdays, you celebrate differently.

Last year on my birthday, before I went public with my diagnosis, I posted that I was simply celebrating having traveled another year around the sun. And I really was celebrating, for I truly realized the momentous gift that I had been given – another year of life.

And today, like then, I think back on all my birthdays.

Yes, I remember as a kid that I cherished my PRESENTS.

However, today, as I stare down the remaining journey that this life holds for me, I instead cherish my PRESENCE.

There is a meaningful difference.

I would encourage you to make time every day to cherish your presence, and the presence of loved ones around you, while you still can.

In doing so, I have found the amazing in today. And I am celebrating it. Happy Birthday to me. And Peace and Love from here.

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