On Birthdays…


I turned 59 yesterday. My birthdays, especially those 9th ones (29, 39, 49…), tend gnaw at me more than the others because the next year “I will be old.”

Let me preface this by stating without hesitation that I am happier now than I have been at any of my prior 9th birthdays. I would not go back to 29, if Jesus himself asked me to. My physical health has taken some hits (and I have taken control of that situation), but my mental health is the best it has ever been. I love my life. I do not buy self help books anymore. I rarely compare myself to others. Sometimes I am living my best life and sometimes not so much, but we can’t be best every day. I am completely fine with me in this moment. Sure, there are times I don’t feel that way (usually when I need sleep), but that is rare.

The great thing about being this age is no one expects me to show up all pretty. I’m saving a bunch of money on makeup. I just show up with my smile on and that is good enough.

The thing is, my 59th birthday was lovely with many happy birthday wishes, too many cupcakes, and a sweet celebration with special people. It goes without saying that I will be 60, if I am granted another year. 60 feels old to me; 40 no longer does.

A few days ago, a colleague made a reference to our being middle-aged.  “I am not middle-aged,” I corrected her. “I was middle age twenty years ago.” Though it came from my mouth, the statement shocked me. I was middle-aged TWENTY years ago. I am closer to the date of my death, than the date of my birth. I have no choice but to admit that I am … what? Older, a senior, elderly? In spite of having an AARP card, I am I’m not an RP.

I am not trying to be morbid, but I think about my impending death quite a lot these days. My feelings are mixed.

The current average life expectancy of a white American female (me) is 80 years. According to my calculations, I might have 20 years left if I am careful and stay healthy. I’m not prone to “careful” by the way. In 20 years, my oldest grandchild will be 35 years old, and his father 57. Fingers-crossed, I will have great grandchildren. But is 20 years enough time to accomplish all the many things I still have left to do? If I stop to think about it too hard, I get heart palpitations and that is not good for my bum valves.

I think part of the fear of death is the unknown. During Mom’s last week of her long battle with breast cancer, she smiled and spoke with people in the room that only she could see. She was apprehensive. She saw a light and a door. She wanted to go, she knew she would see Jesus and her family, but still wanted some clear direction. She asked for the logistics of her final journey. She worried she would take a wrong turn after she walked through. Was this real or the cancer in her brain?

I was raised in a traditional Christian home and my current belief is grounded there. I’ve made some tweaks along the way from the fire-and-brimstone-only-few-are-worthy screeching of the Rev. Jones. I know my soul will continue living after my body dies. This is true for me. I also know that what I believe to be true, may not be true for everyone. The all-powerful God of my faith wants us all to be with Him, and He will make it happen. I do not worry that your belief differs from mine.

While I have this faith that life goes on in what we traditionally call “Heaven,” no one has ever been able to fully explain what it will be like. I have heard the tales pearly gates and streets of gold and mansions and St. Peter as the doorman. Are the few vague Biblical descriptions literal? Is it a physical place above the clouds, another dimension, or a state of mind? Is it instant, or do I have to wait in some kind of sleep until everyone else dies? Will I live forever there, or will we rinse and repeat new generations? Are our souls recycled again and again until we are perfected, or until some Universal truth is accomplished and God stops the production? These are the questions I have.

If only there were more details about the afterlife – like a brochure or something.

“When you arrive on your first day, you will be assigned a Heavenly Buddy who will take you through orientation and then you will pick out your mansion.”

If only we could get a preview, like the coming attractions at the movies.

“In a world, where all your wildest dreams have already been realized and the words need, pain, heartbreak, and poverty have been stricken from the vernacular…”

Would knowing with complete certainty that we would wake up in the perfect place my Sunday School teacher told me about, where all our loved ones from the past would join us while we wait for those still living, and the sun always shines, and everything is perfect, remove our fear of death?

If I’m having a bad day, the boss is mean to me, my lunch order comes out wrong, traffic is stupid, and I stub my little toe on the edge of the coffee table BUT I know with 100% certainty that a perfect paradise awaits me at my death; why wouldn’t I just drive my car off a bridge or make like Virginia Woolfe and put rocks in my pockets? If we have faith, what keeps us grounded here on Earth? If we have blessed assurance, why do we fear?

Then again, perhaps that is why the Universe operates like a war general and only provides us with information on a need-to-know basis. St. Peter doesn’t want us all crowding in at the same time, creating gridlock at the pearly gates; right? Someone must stay here and have the babies and water the petunias. I’m guessing the brochure comes after we take our last breath.

Death is our destiny. It is in the grand scheme of things. It is a multi-millennia old system. “It is appointed unto man, once to die… (Hebrews 9:27)”. My people have died before me, and many will die after me. If I look at it as the finish line, I get panicky and start to worry about all the things undone. But if I see it as the door to a new adventure, I could be fine with it. At some point, I am certain I will welcome it.

But I’m just not there yet.

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