“It’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years.
- Abraham Lincoln
I wasn’t looking forward to my fifty-seventh birthday. The angst I felt when I turned the milestone birthdays of thirty, forty and fifty was nothing compared to the dread of the fifty-seventh.
Twenty-three years earlier, my mother had died at age fifty-seven of ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease. The shock of reaching the same age as my mother when she died hit me with the force of a locomotive crashing into my psyche. I could hardly believe mother was only fifty-seven when she died.
I wondered how many more years I had.
As a single parent, my four children had been out on their own for years, living in California, Arizona, and two of them eighty and one hundred miles away from my home in Wisconsin. I’d broken up with my last boyfriend ten years earlier, so there was no man around to orchestrate my birthday. I did spend the first half of the day with my daughter Julia and her three youngsters who had driven the hundred miles from their home in Dane, Wisconsin. This normally would have redeemed the day, but Julia was in the middle of an exhausting divorce and took a four-hour nap after lunch. Stress and tension seemed to ooze out of her pores and by the time they left I, too, was exhausted.
Alone again, I walked into my house and began a grand pity party. Did I do anything constructive or fun to pull myself out of the doldrums? Of course not. The pity party rules demand that you make yourself as miserable as possible.
No presents. No cake. The cards from my relatives and friends had all come in the mail a couple days earlier. My oldest daughter in California hadn’t called. As in previous years, she thought my birthday was on the fourteenth instead of the twelfth.
My pity party continued, complete with tears and a bit of anger. I simply wished that those twenty-four hours would end quickly. I even started talking aloud to God, “Okay God, I’m a nice, happy, fun, pleasant person. I have lots of friends, great kids, wonderful relatives. Some of them must remembers that it’s my birthday. So why am I alone tonight? I do stuff for other people on their birthdays. Is there something you want me to learn from this dismal experience?
In a last-ditch effort to find something productive to do that evening. I gathered the trash and took it out to the garage. On my way back into the house I spotted my old bicycle in the corner. My boyfriend had given it to me for Christmas twelve years earlier. I never really liked that bike. It didn’t fit me right and the gears slipped like crazy in spite of a tune-up. I kicked the back tire and said, “You’re about as worthless as I feel. I wish I had a new bike”.
“That’s it!” I practically shouted. “I’m going to buy myself a birthday present. A new bicycle! I’ll go shopping for it Monday morning”.
I’d wanted a new bicycle for three years, but when a single mom is in her sixteenth year of having kids in college without a break, one does not consider extravagant purchases for oneself. But my black mood pushed me over the edge of self-indulgence.
Having made the decision, I practically skipped into the house, feeling thirty years younger and filled with the anticipation of a brand new bicycle. I was a kid again, dreaming of a sleek new lightweight bike with shock absorbers and a comfortable seat.
That night, before bedtime, I was paging through the book of Psalms, trying to find a good definition of happiness. I found it in Psalms 144:12-15.
Sons vigorous and tall as growing plants. Daughters of graceful beauty like the pillars of a palace wall.
Barns full to the brim with crops of every kind.
Sheep by the thousands out in our fields. Oxen loaded down with produce. No enemy attacking the walls, but peace everywhere. No crime in our streets. Yes, happy are those whose God is Jehovah.
The verse described my sons, my daughters, and my life perfectly. I was healthy, had plenty to eat, no enemies attacking my walls, no crime in my streets, and I had a wonderful friend in the Lord. This birthday was just another day. Most definitely, all was right in my world.
Monday morning dawned and my new bicycle excitement hadn’t waned a bit. I drove to the bike shop and rode a sleek silver and white lightweight aluminum-framed beauty around the store. I felt as excited as I was at age seven when I got my first bike fifty years earlier. This dream-bike was even on sale because it was the fall season. I pulled out my checkbook and paid in full.
Since then, whenever I feel a little pity party coming on, I hop on my 21-speed beauty with the shock absorbers and a spring-loaded seat for extra comfort and head for the forty-nine-mile-long bike trail with another ten or twelve miles under my belt, my sunny disposition has returned. I’ve learned that when you’re a big kid, every day can be a birthday celebration. Especially when you have a good bicycle with a nice soft seat waiting to take you away.
By Patricia Lorenz