Steen

”Nature gives you the face you have at 20, it is up to you to merit the face you have at 50.” — Coco Chanel

“Nah, I don’t celebrate birthdays anymore,” said this girl NEVER. I hear people say it quite often, though, and while some have interesting reasons, I think everyone needs to be celebrated.

Honestly, I think every day is special, and people shouldn’t be made to feel special only once a year. But one day each year, a person gets to mark another trip around the sun, as it were. Birthdays, for me, are special, and while I no longer have the face I had at 20, given by nature, I do have the face I have today, given by two sons, one husband, and a host of unnamed characters. I think Coco would approve.

Some of you don’t love celebrating birthdays, and I’ve had to research why.

• Some people don’t want to acknowledge they are getting older.

• Some people find it easier to skip celebrating than risk being forgotten.

• Some people are so unhappy with where they are in life that a birthday just seems to remind them of what they view as failure.

Here’s the thing — age is just a number, so let that one go, Next, you might not like the attention you get, or you might be afraid of the attention you won’t receive, but other people gain a lot of joy from taking time to appreciate that it’s your day, your special day when you came into the world.

At two, 20 or 50-something, it’s nice that friends or family want to pay tribute to us in even the smallest way. I like to think the world should put everything on hold for someone’s birthday (my son literally laughed aloud when I said that), so they can enjoy whatever brings them a little happiness.

So, how can you help make birthdays, yours or someone else’s, an easier and happier deal?

1. Let go of expectations (your birthday). It’s the very best way to not be overcome with disappointment. If your family forgets, your boss never mentions it, and no cards arrive in the mail, it’s OK. Let that be OK, instead of being hurt and angry. It’s your day, after all, not theirs.

2. Write a note (their birthday). You do not have to spend a fortune on a birthday card. It’s the note, the words from someone who cares about them, that will matter. Skip the hurried stop at the drugstore for a card. Write some words that will affirm them on an index card if that’s all you have. The words don’t have to be perfect, but they should let a person feel loved/appreciated/valued. As Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Take a moment to leave them feeling celebrated. They will not forget. And a brown paper bag provides plenty of space to write.

3. Do something special (your birthday, their birthday). This is what it all comes down to. Whether you drop off a note to someone, stop and get yourself a special cup of coffee or breakfast on the way to work, take the morning for yourself, or leave a fun something in a gift bag on their desk, a little something special sets the tone and sends the message — it’s an especially special day.

The list could go on, and if you want me to help you through a difficult birthday, I will be glad to. I just absolutely believe the world spends a lot of time telling people they are mediocre, when, in fact, they are anything but.

A birthday is the one day a year we put aside differences to tell someone they are better than they might have thought. And no matter what age, the person’s face is pretty spectacular — they’ve survived! Wrinkles, scars, and lines earned!

I’ve survived. The face I had at 20 was the face of a young woman who had lived a lot of life and wondered if she would survive many more. Life was hard, people were hard, but birthdays were the one day that face felt loved and valued and hopeful for the future. I have always been a birthday lover, and I’m guessing it’s because my mother made sure we felt especially special when we came downstairs that morning. Nothing fancy, just lots of love. And usually, a poster or sign of some kind.

A personal note ... I always think of mothers on birthdays. I should probably think of fathers, too, since it takes two people, but for now I’ll stay with mothers.

Each year, I think of a friend. Her name was Donna. I never met her, never saw her face in person, but we talked on the phone quite a bit in the last 20 years of her life. She and my mother, of whom I speak often and love much, never knew each other but worked to get me where I am today, wrinkles and all.

I’m one of the luckiest ones — I was chosen. I was an accident to one woman, and I was a gift to another. (I wonder if my parents thought of me as a gift a few times during my teenage years.) I was adopted. And on my birthday each year, I am so thankful for the gift of life from both women. They each are part of my story.

We each have a story. Our birth is just the beginning. What is your story? Your age, it’s just a number. Use your birthday as a check-in, a reset, a place to look back and to look forward. For me, I celebrate every year that two women loved me so much. One has died, and one continues to love me whether I embarrass her with stories of holding hands in the movie theater or celebrate her with thanks for her art.

Happy Birthday! I bet your day is coming around soon!

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (stories@susanbsteen.com).

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