6 November 2009
Birthdays are about Dying
Note: The homily for today is the previous post. This article is a sharing. My gratitude cannot equal what all of you have given me. And thus, I say what we say in my home province, “Dios mabalos saindo gabos” — The Lord will repay all of you! Thank you.
Today, I turn 41. I wonder what happened in the past years of celebrating my birthdays. A party is not anymore as significant as my bash when I was ten or twenty. I still remember sweet spaghetti and fried chicken at puberty; or particularly, a McDo kiddie party in my early twenties before my assignment to Xavier University as a Jesuit regent — that was fun! Ten years after, the McCann-Erickson survey of 2005 would call me a “twenteener” (those in their 20s who are more adolescent than real teenagers).
I guess I am a “forteener” and proud to be so! I have not abandoned the sense of wonder. And it is not just me. My childhood classmates enjoy talking about our past as we gear towards our grand reunion in 2010. Thirty years since grade school; twenty-five years since high school. And we needed that. It is always good to wonder about what kept us alive and kicking in the early half of our lives so that we will have the energy to love life in the remaining half. It is in this context that I assert what birthdays are: birthdays are about deaths.
Someone said that our cradle stands in the grave. Every birthday is a movement towards death. We begin aging once we’re born. Every growth is a product of death. The tree that we see has been a product of millions of meaningful cellular deaths: the end of their lives paved the way for new cells. It is like music: every note should die for another to play its tune. And thus, every melody or harmony is a product of the birth & death of a note. We’ve got to play our tune before the end so that history becomes a song.
And thus, let us leave the juvenile notion and turn to the generation who possess a significant number of years in this life. For the latter, birthdays should change color. So I dare say, we should start maturing once we’re thrown out of the womb. We should not get older but better. When we were young, our birthdays are about us; however, as we allow more people into our hearts or gave birth to them, our birthdays turn to be about others. As St. John the Baptist say about Jesus, “I must decrease; He must increase,” we mature when our lives become life-giving for those who matter to us. It is when most of our days are spent showing our love than counting what love they have given to us in return. It is when we give more Christmas cards even if we receive less than what we have sent. It is when we find more joy in our giving, than in our receiving. It is when the love that we have of others surpasses the healthy love we have for ourselves.
And so, it is profitable to assess our lives in the perspective of death. How much have we died will tell us how much we have significantly lived. Are there times when we choose to watch another movie than the movie we’d like to see because our friends want it? Or decide to study despite our passionate longing to be with someone we love; Or forego an attraction because of our vows to be faithful with someone or Someone. Are there moments when an intense positive or negative emotion demands immediate expression, but we controlled ourselves for the sake of the common good? As I turn towards becoming a senior citizen, I have come to grapple with these dilemmas. And most of the time, I allow what I want and how I want things done take the reins. It is easier to choose I-me-and-myself than take the path of death. However, the moments when I take the you-yours-and-yourself path, the more peaceful and happier I have become even if it entails some amount of pain. Death is never without it. The tree of death and the fountain of youth are one and the same. We find the Resurrection on the cross of Christ just as we see reflected on His victory the sufferings He took for us.
Therefore, I celebrate my birthday by reflecting on the times I choose to die for someone else or better, to offer my life for more people other than whom I personally know. It is not an accident that saints and heroes are remembered and celebrated on the day of their deaths; the day they’ve given up all is the day they find themselves totally in the hands of God. I am not ashamed to tell the world that I want to die this way. We have been baptized in the name of Christ, so we are built to be like Him. And thus, we have to try all the time to be who we are meant to be. All the saints and heroes tell us that it is possible.
St. Joseph is more significant to me in the daily grind, than the mortal end. We pray for a happier and meaningful little deaths than the once-and-for-all. Seneca said that the day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.
So at 41, I tell myself, “Die, Jboy, die!” And to you, thank you for giving me the opportunity to slowly give up what I first thought in my younger years as the most important.