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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Birthdays and Funerals

Today in the copy room at work we celebrated this month’s birthdays.  Back in our office, I asked my co-workers a dumb question—why do we celebrate birthdays?   One answer, “for the presents;” another, “for the cake.”  I guess the answer is too obvious to take seriously.  Perhaps parents would never ask this question.  Birthdays are days that honor the memory of birth.  Birth is a spiritual as well as physical experience.  With our awareness of genetics, the feeling of transition on the occasion of birth can be extremely powerful—our heritage (we are alive and strong) and our legacy (we are also mortal) are in the structure of the genes.  That birth is a deep emotional experience is evidenced by the not uncommon shedding of tears on the part of observers at the moment of birth.

Next to the ritual of birthdays, place the ritual of funerals.  This evening I attended a visitation for Ginny Sweat—completely active until only a few months ago when it was discovered she had leukemia.  A funeral is not recurrent of course.  Most often, after a few years the exact date of death is a vague memory.  We are more inclined to remember a deceased’s birthday rather than their death day.   We cry tears at funerals primarily not from the awesomeness of life, but from the final extinguishing of life.  It is the closing off of opportunity for this individual and for us to relate to them.  The funeral ritual serves a friendly purpose.  It structures our feelings of emptiness with remembrances of a vibrant life while methodically in a dignified way disposing of the body.  Birthdays and funerals can be seen alike as celebrations of continuance and conclusion.  Both are somehow necessary to show due regard for the oddly crafted carriers of consciousness on planet earth.

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