Friday, July 15, 2011


Birthdays make me reflective. We humans love to commemorate big landmarks, e.g. the Market hits another 1,000 level (10,000, 11,000, 12,000, etc.), the mercury hits triple digits, a batter gets his 3,000th hit, a pitcher 300 wins, or we mark another decade of life (30, 40, 50, 60). When I hit 30, my wife made me a cake in the shape of a hill to mark my approaching decrepitude (over the hill, you see). At 40, my favorite Skipper, Capt B, gathered my family and co-workers in the conference room with cake and balloons to mark the occasion. At 50, I realized that the best thing about being over each hill was that another lay in the distance. How many more hills I climb is out of my hands. That I keep climbing my best is not.

I have not yet reached 60, but at 59 I realize that I ought to be thankful not only for living another decade but for another year, another day—in fact, for every new breath. Every breath is a gift from the One who first breathed life into the first lump of clay to bring it to life. In the same way, miracles happen every day. They consist not only in the parting of the Sea or the manna in the wilderness or the resurrection from the dead. The creation itself is a miracle. The birth of a child (or grandchild), the ability to earn a living, the rejuvenation of sleep, the nutrition of food, the list is never-ending. These are everyday miracles in the physical realm.

Love is a miracle: that we love others; that others love us. Kindness is miraculous: that people perform acts of kindness without ulterior motive. Comprehension is a miraculous gift from above. As Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, "even the very act of thinking baffles our thinking, just as every intelligible fact is, by virtue of its being a fact, drunk with baffling aloofness...What fills us with radical amazement is not the relations in which everything is embedded but the fact that even the minimum of perception is a maximum of enigma. The most incomprehensible fact is the fact that we comprehend at all." These are but a few of the miracles in the emotional and intellectual realms.

So, here are just a few of the miracles from my birthday. I opened my eyes at 6:00 a.m., something I have taken for granted my entire life and for which I am learning to be consciously grateful. After completing a circuit to bring artificial light into the room, I twisted a handle to start water flowing so that I could wash the phiz and brush the teeth. In addition to electricity itself being a miracle, ours was out until our electrician and a helpful Xcel repairman brought it back to life. Shower, shave, mirror, shave cream, after shave, everywhere I turned a miracle of technology.

I also ingested three tiny tablets to keep my blood pressure and cholesterol in check before dressing and walking (ambulation—miracle) to the shed to grab my golf clubs, which had been carefully crafted to make my shots straighter oftener when I hit the balls that were designed for maximum distance. Tossing the clubs in the trunk, I turned a little key in a switch and my powerful horseless carriage roared to life.

Arriving at the driving range, I joined my good friends: a coworker; my employer, my cousin’s husband, who is like a brother to me; and his son, my cousin-nephew. Green grass, sunshine, fresh air, good shots, bad shots, joy, frustration, conversation, a typical round of golf. So many miracles. Were I to list them all, this could go on forever.

Then when I turned on my computer, the electronic impulses representing 1s and 0s became intelligible English words, as the birthday greetings started pouring in from around the country and the world, close to a hundred from friends and family. So many everyday miracles went into making this possible, I won’t even try to list them, but the miracle of the love and appreciation of others, and the communication skills to express these sentiments to one another, touched my heart all day long. That is not to mention the friends, family, coworkers who wished me a happy birthday in person, all miracles of human communication, kindness, expressiveness and interaction.

Having reached the exalted age of 59, am I to feel old? I don’t. Oh, I’m not saying I don’t have aches and pains. Sometimes, as some comedian said, my aches and pains have aches and pains. But I don’t feel old. I more and more identify with my mother-in-law, who used to say she would get confused by the woman looking back at her in the mirror because she felt like a 16-year-old girl. I feel more like 25 or 30 (and male), but I now know what she means.

Tomorrow will have its challenges, to be sure, and I will face them as optimistically and as confidently as when I was 30, 40, and 50, and I shall try to be more aware of the myriad miracles surrounding me every day as I walk through this life for another breath, another day, another decade, gratefully.

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