My birthday was a couple of days ago.
Like holidays, birthdays tend to be days of reflection and can elicit complex emotions.
Like you, I’ve had some great ones and I’ve had some stinkers.
Birthdays have a way of amplifying whatever emotional state you’re in. And birthdays are personal. They are “your” day, and as much as someone may deny it, we all want to feel a little special, we all want to feel that our life holds some meaning outside ourselves on The Big Day.
This year, I had one of the greatest birthdays of my lifetime. (Really, it was just a great day that happened to be my birthday, but it was so good I want to bask in the glow. And writing is my gateway to basking, so here it is.)
We spent my birthday at the rustic family camp in Putnam Station, NY. I suppose the first word of that last sentence reveals the heart of the experience.
I am a we.
I have a we.
In my life, I have created a we.
Me, Drew, I am just a part of my life. I have lots of rich, wonderful we’s. And I like this.
More specifically, the we was my wife and kids, and three of my older siblings (Matt, Mary, and Nora) and most of their children. We gathered at the specific place on Earth that has shaped my life more than any other over the past four decades, the place where I have had the most fun.
In fact, my favorite birthday memory took place here as a boy four decades ago. My siblings and I were playing hide and seek in the tall hay fields, being kids and feeling free.
As the shadows stretched across the field, my mother rang the cowbell to signal it was time to return to the cabin. Upon my arrival there was a cake and my present, a Mickey Mouse turntable (his arm was the stylus). I remember being SO EXCITED (though I couldn’t wait to get home to play some records because there’s no electricity at camp).
As we get older and settle into our lives, those kinds of experiences full of such wild enthusiasm, total freedom, and fun seem harder to replicate.
As an adult, if you want a party, you have to throw it for yourself. In other words, if you want the fun, you need to put forth the effort. (And, by the way, most of that effort is really saying YES when it would seem easier to say NO.)
And creating a we in your life? A tribe of people to amplify life’s experiences? That takes effort. Attention. Focus.
So here we were, gathered in this magical spot, connecting to the dream and legacy of my father who manifested the place. A few times I just hung back and took in the scene of my big family, playing, talking, laughing. To see them all here — connecting to the magic of this spot, forming the same memories of running though the grass barefoot, playing Wiffle ball for hours, of making a trip to the outhouse — well, it simply made me very, very happy.
Of course there was a lot of work for the moms and dads here. The travel to get here, the party planning, the wrangling of personalities, the cleanup…
But watching these kids interact and enjoy each other so much, seeing my smile from 40 years ago on their faces, well, that’s rewarding beyond words. In parenthood the days go slowly and the year go quickly. It’s a grind and a flash.
On my birthday, I saw the meaning of my life and the rewards of my efforts playing out before me.
The fact that I loved what I saw ranks right up there with my Mickey Mouse turntable as one of the greatest things I’ve ever received.