No, I’m not speaking at ACU’s graduation today. But here’s what I said several years ago. I’d give the same advice again today if asked. Congratulations, Graduates!
Waiting patiently, he scans the never-ending surge of lunch patrons through the door. Traffic was kind to him and he felt fortunate to have arrived early and secured the table. As servers rush by, the breeze is flavored with the aroma of baked bread and the foods your grandmother prepared for Sunday lunch. Comfort food.
Then, he spots his friend. A quick acknowledgment from the friend as he waves off the hostess and makes his way to the table — an island for conversation for the next hour.
For a little while, two people with a special bond share their lives. Occasionally there is a theme for the day. But often the talk is a meandering path of intimacy and discovery, history and future. That’s the magic of friendship. A solid presence peppered by the breeze of surprise and newness.
Technology and the demands of today’s lifestyle have changed the way we practice friendship. Social media and the belief that forceful opinion is the stuff that glues us together is watering down our significant relationships with others. Crowded calendars push friends out. Instead of a delightful and welcoming breeze, our personal conversation often takes shape as a suffocating blanket or a furnace blast of rhetoric. Or, merely a platform for rapid-fire delivery of information.
Friendships wilt without the pleasant breeze. Although, true friendship, because of previous breezes shared, can weather almost anything.
It’s not one of those birthdays, after all. Just a run-of-the-mill birthday with no special meaning. Except for the whole grateful-to-be-alive sentiment, of course.
Many years ago, I would get up early on my birthday and slip down to the Towne Crier Restaurant. Following a traditional meal of an omelet, country sausage, and hash brown potatoes, I would sit with my pen and paper journal and write out aspirations. It was a subversive moment. None of the food listed was considered healthy at the time. Thus, I celebrated a moment of carefree abandon and a feeling of invincibility. Eggs are back on the healthy list now. And the occasional sausage is not the worst thing. I think I miss hash browns the most.
This morning, I had the same breakfast I’ve had every day for the past year or so. Black coffee — nice and strong. And a protein bar. I woke up hungry for that combination this morning. And now that I think about it, I should have pulled down the red, “You Are Special Today” coffee cup. But I didn’t.
There were a good many years when I would anticipate my birthday gifts. I may, indeed, receive some this year. But if I don’t, I will feel no distress. I have so much already.
I will hear from many of my friends today. A phone call or two. Birthday cards in the mailbox and, through the wonders of the internet, greetings from around the world.
Nancy’s and Togo’s cards are already in hand and the smile on my face is genuine, though perhaps a little goofy. I can’t put into words how thankful I am for family — especially Nancy, my partner in 43 years of marriage and life. Jeremy, Justin, and Bella have special places in my heart. My little family. And those family members who brought us to this time, some still with us, some passed on. And the past 5 years with Togo has provided enough material to keep my FaceBook friends happy. Blessed.
One of the beautiful things about a late December birthday is the gatherings of family and friends during this holiday season. Even though the exact times of reunion may not have coincided with my birthday, the fresh memories of car trips and gift-giving and special meals shared still warm me.
Over 50 years ago, I remember a birthday celebrated at my grandparents in San Angelo, Texas. I remember Mom waking me to tell me that Jesus had given me a present — snow! The fact that snow is a relative rarity in that part of the world and that there was an abundance of it was part of the miracle. And, of course, knowing that Jesus made it happen just for me.
It’s foggy and cold outside today. And the weather forecast promises even colder weather tonight and for the next couple of days. I am grateful for a warm home and feel a few tears as I think of those who don’t enjoy the comforts that I have. And honestly, some of those tears come from knowing that many people who have blessings similar to mine truly believe that the homeless and poor are without because of laziness.
One of my greatest blessings is to have had true relationships with people who have suffered untold hardships. Loss of family members, separation from loved ones, addiction, poverty, genocide, homelessness, underemployment, depression, and life-altering illness. Pretty much includes everyone I know. I’m wincing a bit as I look at the words just written. “Untold” hardships. I have been especially moved and changed by the told hardships. And blessed when an “untold” story is made known because a true relationship allows that.
At my age, I would generally be forgiven if I talked about politics, regardless of my views. But I won’t go in depth here. Hear the truth, though: “Some of you are right in your politics and some of you are wrong.” I’ll just leave it at that. Deep down, you know who you are.
I’m also amazed at the mirror effect I observe each day. The young man I see in that mirror has much more hair on top of his head, is slimmer, and has fewer wrinkles than the aged image that shows up in pictures and videos. Those captured images are more reminiscent of those who have gone on before. And I’m coming to appreciate those memories. It is nice of that young man to keep showing up in my mirror, however.
I think more about things that will help me live longer. Although, based on the ads that the internet has chosen for me, the days ahead will be filled with pain, incontinence, and perhaps moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis. And if I take the medication offered, it could result in depression, thoughts of suicide, diarrhea, or death. Perhaps more thinking about life and less about living longer is in order.
Not too many years ago, when someone reached 64 there were automatic thoughts of retirement. Then the government moved the age for full Social Security benefits back to 66. Retirement even at that young age seems doubtful, these days.
And then the question looms, “What would I do if I retired?”
I know people who have answers to that question. I admire them. But I have nothing. Oh, I’d like to write more. Maybe that’s a thing.
That’s all I have. Congratulations! You’ve reached the end of my meandering thoughts on birthdays. Whoever you are, friends of old or newly made acquaintances, thanks for making this a wonderful day. Not just for me, but for everyone who crosses your path. If you see me with a smile on my face, it’s because of you.
Just wondering. You have until Saturday.
I made my daily trek to Facebook this morning to see who had a birthday and to send along my best wishes. And, as I often do, I took a look at some of the posts shared by my friends. Minutes later, tears flowed as I witnessed a bit of humanity watching high school students come together to make Christmas special for a classmate.
All of the facts aren’t apparent from the video. But we know the storyline and want to hear it again and again.
The video showed a great moment when students gathered around a classmate as she opened a gift that she truly needed. That, in and of itself, brought tears to my eyes. But then I noticed something else. As the moment played out, you saw the faces of the givers. Not only were there expressions of joy, but a 21st-century twist.
Almost every person pictured on that video was capturing the moment on their phones.
Not selfies. Not group poses with a classic stance. Instead, the students were recording a special moment of humanity — when doing for others was the focus and they weren’t even in the picture.
I wonder how many times those students have — and will — share those videos. I wonder how many times they will sit in a quiet place and witness that instant when they were part of something wholly good.
We thirst to be part of such a story. In truth, we see it played every day. I am the person in need. You are the person in need.