Life & Death & Birthdays

Yesterday was my birthday and a couple of days before, I sent this to a long list of friends-but because I got such a huge and wonderful response--and saw many unexpected faces at my impromptu birthday parties (yes I had two), I've decided to share it here as well... This has been a tough year emotionally for me---way way too much death. So this was/is what was on my mind as my birthday approached. 
This is long and I apologize already...and you already know my birthday is around the corner. But I wanted to send this to my friends because...I lost (...not like in "can't find" like "dead") a lot of people this past year—and I am marking a twelve month cycle beginning and ending with my birthday, because I see a birthday as a New Year’s of sorts. Since my birthday falls just a bit past midyear, for me it’s like having a New Year holiday twice--two major occasions each year for reflecting on beginnings and endings.
As I sat down to write this,  and looked at photos of those no longer here, I felt like the “In Memoriam” retrospective they do at the big awards shows--albeit without the poignant orchestration. On these occasions, I am always surprised by the number of names and faces of the dead stars I “knew”/recognize and how many of them died since the last big awards show. You know, they die one at a time, but when they’re all assembled in one group you see how many there were in a year. Needless to say, as I get older, that group grows more familiar. Many of them I remember when they were young and I think of my parents (a couple of decades or so ago) saying the same thing about the stars they “knew.”
But this year, it was the numbers of loss in my own life that startled me. I remember posting a lot of  “Funeral today” as my Facebook or Twitter status. I knew it was a lot, but I didn’t want to count, but count I did. Eleven. In the span, from July 2011, to July 2012, eleven people I knew are gone. That’s almost one a month. I like that it’s an odd number. I like that I didn’t get to a full dozen.
Of this group of friends and family who died this year, only three were sufficient in years that in another time it might be said that they died of “old age”…their passing, while sudden (no long drawn out illnesses), was not unexpected—they were in their 80’s and 90’s. They had lived full lives. The others were, as far as I’m concerned,  far too young. As I approach my mid 60’s, dying in your early 40’s to late 60’s feels like “too young,” to leave the planet. But we know that age, like goodness, is often irrelevant when it comes to death. We all pass on to whatever is next. So being left with nothing to rail against or complain about the un/fairness of, I looked for a way to deal with my sense of  loss…and I found it.
The only way for me to get past the loss, the sadness, the anger, the disappointment, the feeling of being cheated of more time with loved ones—was to LIVE. TOP SPEED. FLAT OUT. FULL TILT.  Do not wait. Life is on the move. You must be on the move too. Your time is NOW. Suck up each and every second of each and every day. Take nothing for granted. Not the sunshine or the rain. Not the great review or the scathing critique. Not your family. Not your friends. Not your “used to be” friends. Not your breath. Not your health. Do not take one single solitary thing for granted, because in less than the blink of an eye, it could/can/WILL be over.
Breathe deep. Look at the stars and the snowflakes. Smell the roses or the dahlias or the daisies. Celebrate moments big and small. Laugh with your whole body. Love with all your heart. Eat. Drink. Be Merry.  Be happy in silence. Let songs and stories fill your empty places. Commune with yourself. Commune with God or who/whatever your spirit guide may be. Commune with your friends and family. Give everything you have every day—you’ll have more to give tomorrow if you’re lucky enough to have a tomorrow.   Enjoy everything you can and complain less. It could always be worse. If you wake up. It’s a good day. Period.
Which brings me to the point of this--while this is not a major birthday—no round numbers with big fat zeros at the end or fives to mark halfway to some year that we think is important—I’ve decided that they are all major. And I am grateful for every year I have. Every year I CAN celebrate.
So if you’re around…join me if you can—Thursday July 5 for jazz and fun at Makeda or on my actual birthday, Friday July 6, for the same at Sophie’s …or both…no presents or speeches, just great music, excellent food and a good time. If you can’t be there, then PLEASE instead of a gift for me or guilt for not doing/being what others need or require, take a moment to do something joyful for YOURSELF –as long as you celebrate…life is too short not to!

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