Running From My Birthday

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November 6, 2022

4 min read

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How a painful birthday forced me to confront mortality.

At work, I’m known as the “Birthday Queen.” I’ve made it my mission to honor each teacher in my department on her birthday.

Shortly before my birthday, I heard a heart wrenching wail outside my living room window, followed by the sound of sirens. My neighbor had suddenly passed away. One day he was outside, watering his plants and greeting our children; a few days later, he was gone.

Then on my actual birthday, a dear family friend, who was selfless and dedicated to the community, suddenly died. He was a healthy individual, gone without any warning. My rose-colored birthday glasses had completely shattered, and my eyes wandered to the clock ticking on the wall. Did it always make so much noise?

I’m getting older, slowly inching towards mortality.

I spent many sleepless nights and long car rides grappling with this slap of reality. “You’re no longer 22,” my brain whispers. Despite the responsibilities as a wife, mother and teacher, I’ve forgotten my age. I’m guilty of accidentally telling the doctors the wrong age. I’m getting older, slowly inching towards mortality.

What can I do with this rude awakening?

Well, for one, I’m making a more conscientious focus on accomplishing my life’s unique mission. My husband and I are blessed with a beautiful marriage, but I am trying to find ways to be more thoughtful. As a mother, I’m trying to be more present. For years, motherhood has been a big blur. My kids are close in age, and I’ve spent my days dodging flying objects and quelling tantrums. I’ve hazily put one foot in front of the other, without fully taking the time to enjoy them. I am trying to move from survival mode to mindfulness, and give each child more personal attention.

I’ve carried this attitude over to my students, as well. Shortly before the schoolyear began, I had contemplated whether I should continue to teach. There were days where I felt teaching was a thankless profession, and I was pained to leave my baby behind to give of myself to others.

I’ve delved deeply to figure out my unique mission as a teacher and concluded that God has gifted me with the power of empathy. Since my sobering birthday, I’ve focused on that, making it my goal to treat my students with greater empathy, and to working on instilling this trait in them as well. I’m taking my role in shaping future generations even more seriously.

Finally, I’m focusing on myself, as well. I’m dedicating time to work toward a master’s degree, even as my children shout over the professor. When I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself that time doesn’t stand still, and I may never get this learning opportunity again.

I am trying to infuse my time here with as much meaning as possible.

As time stealthily ticks on, I am trying hard not to take moments for granted. I am uncomfortable with the knowledge that I have no clue of how much time I have left. But I am trying to infuse my time here with as much meaning as possible. I am extending more generosity as a wife. I am more present as a mother. I am developing grit as a graduate student. I am tuning in for more teachable moments. And I am focusing on what matters more and what matters less.

We never know what life will bring, but one of the best gifts we can give ourselves is to recognize what makes us special, to have a clear answer to the question: what can we uniquely accomplish? Now that my rose-colored glasses got smashed to pieces, I’m peering through a microscope, zoning in on what’s important.

May we all celebrate future birthdays with a richer grasp on life.

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