My birthday has always been a bit of a strange day for me. I always find myself a little bit out of sorts — not knowing exactly how to feel about getting older. I tend to look back at the past year to evaluate how it went, what I accomplished, and what extraordinary experiences I had. I think about my relationships, my home, and my lifestyle, and appraise whether or not I am where I want to be at this stage of my life. I also look forward and assess what’s ahead of me, searching for something exciting on the horizon. If there’s nothing to look forward to I ask myself if I am prematurely becoming old and accepting a life of complacency and dreariness.
I look at myself in the mirror and wonder if I LOOK the age I just turned or if my body is somehow beating the clock.
Facebook Birthday Wishes
Thanks to Facebook, I get a LOT of birthday wishes. Each one fills me with delight and joy. Yet I wonder why some of these exchanges only happen once a year and why some friendships will always remain so detached. Facebook has managed to bring us all closer together while still allowing us to keep a safe distance.
Every year, I tend to feel a tremendous sense of gratitude while feeling a sense of disconnection at the same time. My husband is very aware of this dichotomy and quite honestly doesn’t know how to handle me on this one day — smother me or stay far away — but he has learned to walk a fine line.
While I view most things in my life with a great sense of simplicity, birthdays are complicated. I tend to make them that way. Thank goodness they only happen once a year.
Birthday on Yom Kippur — Good or Bad?
This year, my birthday, which happens to be on September 28th, landed on Yom Kippur — the most important Jewish Holiday of the year — making things all that much more complicated. You see, Yom Kippur is the holiday where you fast for the whole day to atone for your sins and reflect on the past year.
Fasting on any day is challenging. Fasting on your birthday makes things even more complex.
I wasn’t sure how to process this confluence of events. Was it a blessing or a punishment? My birthday is already a bit of a heavy day for me. Would fasting allow me to feel a sense of spirituality (as it is meant to be) or would it leave me feeling down, drained, and depressed?
Ruth Bader-Ginsburg and Me
One week earlier we heard the news that Ruth Bader-Ginsberg had passed away on Rosh Hashana — the Jewish New Year. There was commentary all over Facebook about how when a Jewish person dies on this holiday, it’s testimony to the fact that he or she is a “tzadik”, a righteous person, and according to the Talmud “the righteous will immediately be written and sealed for eternal life.”
Indeed Ruth Bader-Ginsberg was righteous, and the timing of her death was a confirmation of this fact. So, if dying on Rosh Hashana means that you are a righteous person who is sealed for eternal life, what does it mean when your birthday is on Yom Kippur? Does it mean that you are absolved of all prior sin? Does it mean that your sins are so bad that even your birthday needs to be dedicated to cleansing your soul? Or does it mean that rather than being sealed for eternal life, you will be sealed for eternal damnation? What does this mean for me?
Do I even HAVE to follow the rules?
Fasting is considered a vehicle for reflecting and repenting for one’s sins. I am all for reflecting. In fact, my entire life’s work is predicated on helping leaders reflect on their lives, their relationships, their behavior, and their thinking. I encourage everyone in my midst to use journaling as a means for deep, consistent reflection. I do it daily.
But aren’t birthdays meant for celebrating? And what if I choose NOT to fast? Does that mean that my efforts at reflection are not profound enough? Does it mean that I am definitely going to hell? Or do I get a free pass because it’s my birthday?
What are the rules? Do I HAVE to follow them on my birthday? I mean how does this thing work anyway???
Filled with uncertainty about what was right, what was joyful, what was ‘spiritual’, and what was ‘righteous’, I decided to ask myself the following question — “What’s the healthiest way to celebrate my birthday?”
Since April, I have been focused on taking care of my body, eating cleanly, and ridding myself of all toxins. Intermittent fasting has been part of my daily routine. I decided that this focus should act as my guide, and as a result I chose to fast on my birthday. I thought that doing a good thing for my body just a little bit longer than usual would honor my decision to take care of myself and would be a great way to start off a new year. And… if I had a spiritual experience while I was fasting, I’d be okay with that too.
The day started off bright and hopeful. My trainer came to the house for a workout. She pushed me a bit harder than usual and I felt great. As the day progressed, I received a ton of calls, messages, and FB Posts. I got a lot of love and attention. My husband was careful to both acknowledge my birthday and give me the space to do what I wanted with the day. At noon I enthusiastically appeared on a podcast called Better Pakistan and worked on my computer for a few more hours.
Turn of Events
By 3 p.m. I had a pounding headache. My vision became blurry and I could no longer function.
Was this how I was supposed to feel on my birthday? I was definitely not achieving the level of spiritual depth that I was hoping for — nor was I feeling physically renewed.
I had a coffee to ease the pain.
I felt like I caved, and that I had blown it.
I had blown the sacrifice of Yom Kippur AND I had blown the celebration of my birthday. That one coffee meant I was participating in neither event and I had ruined the start of a new year on all fronts.
The reality is that having a coffee doesn’t, in and of itself, blow a whole holiday, neither does it ruin a birthday. Having a coffee is just that — having a coffee. However, what I did blow is the whole thing out of proportion. I turned having a coffee into a character flaw, a sign of my weakness, and a bad omen about the year to come.
We do that. We blow things out of proportion and we worry out of proportion. We turn small failures into colossal disasters, and we ‘awfulize’ events that we perceive as not going in our favor. We turn small things into huge calamities, and we spend a lot of time feeling bad for decisions that are not all that significant in the grand scheme of things.
Taking Care of Oneself
I had a coffee and I felt so much better. My head was no longer pounding, and I continued to fast for the rest of the day until my birthday dinner. That coffee actually helped me FEEL better. Not only did I feel better physically, I felt better mentally — lighter, brighter and easier about everything.
Imagine if it was every person’s job to take full responsibility for how they feel, guilt-free, even in difficult circumstances? What might change?
We might feel less aggravated with other people’s behaviors.
We might feel more at peace with our decisions.
We might worry less about things that are outside of our control.
We might take actions that are more aligned with our values and well-being.
We might spend a whole lot more time feeling happy, healthy, and calm.
And… we might look at all of our circumstances as blessings — even having a birthday on Yom Kippur!