First let me say I don't get anywhere near birthday cards that you buy in the store. Nor do I want my kids perusing them. Every single card for grownups is either in very poor taste or negative about aging. While some may think this is funny, I do not. I think it's awful.
There's a general approach in society that the younger, the cuter, the smarter, the faster, the stronger, the more savvy, the better. This approach hardly reflects Jewish values. And so many people who buy into Torah values still dread getting older.
I think it's all about how you define yourself. We are all comprised, Judaism teaches, of body and soul (which has been a hot topic here). So if you define yourself by your body, well, after 17 it's all pretty much downhill. You have to start excercising. Your skin starts to sag. The hair eventually gets gray or (gasp) falls out. It's not so very pretty. I mean, which page in the newspaper (what's that?) would you rather skim - the engagements, or the 50-year anniversaries?
But if you define yourself by your soul, well hopefully, if you're growing as a human being, you're improving every year. You're learning new things and new insights; you're more experienced in the wisdom of life; you've recognized mistakes and hopefully worked out some of your kinks. So every year is an improvement (and not just because you're not dead, as Hallmark may have you believe). This is one reason that Judaism teaches us to respect our elders - as a famous Hebrew expression goes, "Ain chacham k'baal hanisayon" - there is no one as wise as he who has experience.
So here I am. 39. I'm better than I was at 29. I'm a little more measured and a little more patient. My pat parenting approaches have taken on a more nuanced sheen. I've realized the error of my ways in a number of areas. I'm so happy.
Did I love the birthday gifts, attention, beautiful and thoughtful and absolutely heartwarming phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook posts and messages, and in person wishes that I received? Did I adore the custom black-and-white cookie (my favorite) birthday cake that my husband ordered for me from the Bagel Shoppe? And all the relatives who came to celebrate with me? So much.
But that's not why I love birthdays. And it's not why I don't dread turning 40.
It's because I know I am soul far more than body. And the trajectory of that aging process, well, it's in my hands.
How do you feel about birthdays?