January 8, 2009 in Idaho Voices

With every birthday, a blessing

Stefanie Pettit Staff writer
 

When I was a child, I thought that having a birthday early in January was pretty unfair.

By the time we got through the holidays and arrived at Jan. 3, there wasn’t much money left, nor was there any enthusiasm (the last vestiges of festive energy having been expended on New Year’s Eve), and pretty much the last thing anybody was interested in was another cheese ball or piece of cake. All the good ideas were under the tree nine days earlier, so my birthday was a little lame, gift-wise. At least that’s how it looked when I was 8.

Well, I got over it, and time has marched on. I’m now at the place where the cards I get from friends are filled with jokes about sagging breasts and malfunctioning body parts. Even so, it’s nice to get those over-the-hill-themed birthday greetings, which, frankly, tend to arrive belatedly because of that early-January thing and friends just catching up with themselves after the New Year.

Maybe I’m not so over it, after all.

Now that we’ve reached what is politely referred to as “a certain age,” a lot of my peers dread birthdays, seeing them as a step closer to an embrace by the Grim Reaper. Not me. I love them – not making a big hoopla over them, but just having them. Getting older beats the alternative and is a thumb in the eye of the guy with the scythe.

I know I feel this way because in my 40s, I got struck down and knocked off my feet by an illness that came out of the blue. I didn’t think I’d live to see 50. Or 55. Or 60. But I have.

Maybe I’ll write about it one day, but this isn’t that day. I’d prefer to speak of my friend Carol, who is my age. As a young mother in her 20s, she was diagnosed with cancer. She had treatment but was told by her doctor that she should go home and put her affairs in order, write letters to her children and just do the best she could.

And so she did – and has been doing so for more than 30 years now.

Carol and I worked together for many years, and we’d sometimes talk about the challenges of living a life under the shadow of what might have been and what might yet be. And we’d talk about living into our senior years when we never thought we’d get there. But we’re there now.

Life does taste sweeter once you’ve nearly lost it. But it is also potentially a more fearful life. There’s a terror lurking out there, the one that sneaks in with the appearance of an ache or lump, light-headedness or nausea. Could this be the return of the thing we’ve been quietly waiting for all along?

Being mindful of symptoms yet keeping the terror at bay is a delicate balance. Most days, we figure out how to do just that. But still, Carol always has her affairs in order, and when she has her twice-yearly cancer screenings, she holds her breath. I’ve had a couple of little medical moments since the big one, but they turned out OK. So far.

So, we live our lives. For me, I’ve learned that sunrises are more beautiful than sunsets, that I’m not good at procrastinating, and that morning is a wonderful time of day. The word “tomorrow” and the reality that there continues to be one for me makes me positively giddy.

You bet I love birthdays, even when they arrive early in January. The gift is that they arrive at all.

Contact correspondent Stefanie Pettit by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast.net.


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