“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.”~Grantland Rice.
I grew up the youngest of five children, until we adopted an older sister, so then we were six. And there were always miscellaneous others in our home, whether boarders or friends. So it did not seem unreasonable when we were told we didn’t have parties with invited guests for birthdays, since we were a big enough crowd to be a party all on our own! I accepted that explanation as a child; it is only when you grow up and have your own family that you start to wonder. Was the reason more to do with finances? Was it because my mother already had enough to handle? Who knows!
But our birthdays were special days, with cake and ice cream. With jello (jelly in the UK tradition), perhaps infused with fruit cocktail, or whipped with evaporated milk. And of course, gifts. I was born several decades ago, on this day in history, early in the morning, on a cold winter’s day in England. It being so close to Christmas, my brother can be excused for thinking my name was ‘Bethlehem.’ Bethany was not a common name (still is, I have never had a co-worker or a student named Bethany). One of my sisters asked: “Did one of you think of Beth, and the other think of Annie, and you put them both together to make Bethany?”! My poor mother must have struggled through Christmas; at nine plus months pregnant, that cannot have been fun!
Even after I knew there was no Santa Claus (Father Christmas), my mother made sure that my Christmas present was never combined with my birthday. Others tended to use the excuse: “I spent a little more than I planned to, so this gift is for Christmas and Birthday!” Of course all kids born around this time have heard that story before! However children don’t appreciate expense, they prefer quantity over quality, but we must be polite! My mother had been trained by her own mother, who was born on Boxing Day (or Christmas Eve, I can never remember which!) so she made sure to give me two.
Birthdays, like New Year’s Day (which in my case are almost the same) are a time for reflection. This has been a strange year for me. And it seems the world shares this opinion. For me personally, 2015 ended with the closing out of an era, the laying to rest of my mother, five years after the death of my father. And then 4 days into 2016, my former husband, father of my four kids, died suddenly. Life and death go hand in hand, and yet we are still unprepared. Now I am closing out the year which started with endings, in a new home, a place of new beginnings. This is the cycle of life.
With new beginnings come opportunities for new habits, a time to see things in a different light. And so although I have never been the hostess type, never been the one to throw parties or invite people over, I found myself doing so on Christmas Eve (family and in-laws only, I know my limits!). I found myself planning and making lists, spent all day in the kitchen preparing Jamaican style fruit punch (with fruit cocktail, minus the rum!), cooking oxtail and rice and peas. And though I still lack the gene for elaborate and elegant dinner party preparation, my granddaughter declared “This is a great party, Granny!” (there is nothing like the praise of a four year old!). This may not sound like much to those who make it a habit of throwing parties, or of cooking for large numbers on a regular basis, but those who know me are well aware that this was quite an accomplishment! One friend called it a Christmas miracle!
We often need a push to get outside of our comfort zone. We need the moments of supreme sadness to appreciate the many other moments of joy that we experience daily. We need loss to remind us to make the most of the present, of that which we have. We need a kick in the butt to deliver us to the next level of growth and development, to get out of a routine of mediocrity and instead to shoot for excellence. We will never know what we are capable of until we attempt something we have never tried before.
I have been spending the last week sorting through boxes of who knows what, that I have allowed to clutter up my life for too long. This time last year my siblings and I were sorting through letters and sermons and cards and books saved by my mother after a lifetime of living. It is impossible to do these tasks without being transported back in time. I have encountered notes written to me by my father, when he was still clear. One began “you will recognize my handwriting, even if you cannot read it!” My mother was the letter-writer, but if it was a special occasion she would always leave a space for my father to write his own note. I have been looking at old photos again, and trying to picture the three year old girl who posed on a motor-scooter, or paraded in a fashion show. What potential have I not lived up to? What opportunities may I have ignored along the way?
So this morning, I celebrate the person I am, thankful to all of the people and events in my life that have helped to shape me and push me and inspire me. There is a fridge magnet that I bought for my mother once, it says “Because you are, I am.” As the year comes to a close, and I add another number to my age, I recognize that I have a responsibility to live this life with the knowledge that nothing is promised, nothing is assured, and so all we can do is play the game with gusto, with compassion for our opponents, and with care for our teammates.
Have a fabulous weekend, Family! I hope you get a chance to appreciate those who are in your life, to eat some more good food, and to give thanks for another day, month, year of life.