I have two birthdays. Like presidents, I have a legal holiday and the actual day I was born. May 14th is recorded as my legal birthday. It appears on my birth certificate, driver’s license and any other official documentation. It’s the date I have to use when asked for my date of birth at the pharmacy, doctor’s office, and on road race applications, which makes me feel like I’m lying since that’s not the day I was born. It is however the day on which I celebrated my birthday for the first 29 years of my life. Just before my 30th birthday, I found my biological mother who was quick to inform me that I was actually born on May 13th. She’s the only person I know who was there, so I will take her word on it (plus if you were to look up the date in The Secret Language of Birthdays, May 13th describes me accurately, the 14th does not). There are some theories on what happened. Someone may have thought that the 13th was unlucky or maybe it was an efficient approach to record keeping at County Hospital in Roscommon, Ireland (all the week’s births being recorded on the Friday).

It really doesn’t matter. My (adoptive) mother told me that she had celebrated her mother’s birthday in August all of her life. After her father died, her mother informed her that her birthday was actually in March. Apparently when she met my grandfather she needed an excuse to invite him to her house and told him it was her birthday…and through 40-some years of marriage she never fessed up. Some people were born on February 29th and can only have a “real” birthday every four years. And I’m sure I’m not the only person with an improperly recorded birthday. The important thing is that we mark the passage of time and birthdays give us one day every year when we as individuals get to feel extra special.

I now mark the occasion on the 13th, but tend to celebrate a little on the 14th too (it’s still the anniversary of a lot of great birthday celebrations and the day I got my driver’s license). But regardless of what day you want to recognize, it just past. I’m now 51; no longer simply 50, but “in my 50s.” I’m okay with being in my 50s. I’m happy with who I am and what I’ve achieved and proud that I have met the challenges that could have prevented me from getting this far, this well. I’ve already dealt with aging parents, assisted living, and their deaths. I’ve had cancer. I had a colonoscopy. I’m a widow and received social security checks. I wear reading glasses, joined AARP and last week, broke down and got a hearing aid. Aging isn’t about lying down and giving up. It’s about regular maintenance, fixing what needs to be fixed, and getting back out on the road. Honestly, my 50s are starting to rock!

I loved when the American Cancer Society started calling themselves “The Official Sponsor of Birthdays” even before I was a cancer survivor. They said, “Together with our millions of supporters, the American Cancer Society saves lives and creates more birthdays by helping people stay well and get well, by finding cures, and by fighting back.” From my perspective as a non-profit professional, it’s a fabulous campaign. Now as a cancer survivor, I understand it’s truth more fully. As a survivor I relish every birthday and have respect for every year.

Some people lie about their age. My grandmother (who obviously had no problem lying about birthdays) always said if you’re going to lie, you should lie older, not younger. If you’re 50 and you tell people you’re 40, they will just think you look old for your age. But if you tell them you’re 60, they’ll think you look good, right? Runners can’t lie about their age because it gets plastered all over the race results. But most runners I know are okay with aging, because every five years we get to be the “youngsters” in a new age group. And honestly, I’m often shocked when I realize just how old some of my fellow runners are. I was speaking with someone at the New Year’s Day race and he mentioned he’d be moving into a new age group this year. I said, “the big 6-0 this year, huh?” He said, “No! I’m turning 70!”

Every year I notice more and more people winning age-group awards in the 80 and over category. I imagine when I reach that milestone there will be a lot more competition and I won’t be getting awards just for showing up. Being a runner not only makes me look forward to birthdays and new age-groups, it makes me feel better – healthier and stronger – when I get there. Some people stress about getting older. Most of them aren’t runners…or cancer survivors.

Union Cemetery, Darlington Avenue, Ramsey, New Jersey. The alternative to getting older; a very pretty place I pass on my runs.

2 thoughts on “Birthdays

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