She spent her birthday enjoying calls from family and friends and treating a group of friends and family to a sumptuous feast at her favorite Chinese restaurant -- celebrating not only reaching another birthday -- but also her good fortune in friendships.
"What a wonderful surprise we had in moving here two years ago," she said, lifting a Coke in toast of a circle of friends and neighbors. "I feel I've known you people all my life and you've all had such an impact on my life. And I want to celebrate each one of you and thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you have done, in very individual ways, to help me so much the past few months."
And as I listened -- and watched tears glistening in the eyes of some of the friends gathered -- I thought that Phyllis had a point: in addition to being feted for reaching yet another birthday, one's birthday is an excellent time to remember our parents with love, and to express gratitude and thanks to the loved ones around us for all they do to make the passages and challenges of our lives bearable, interesting and maybe even fun and rewarding.
We may welcome birthdays as milestones and accomplishments. Remember how delicious it was to be 16 at last and to get that long anticipated driver's license? Or to turn 18 or 21 to be seen as a young adult. I remember actually looking forward to my 30th birthday -- which in reality was uniquely awful due to some difficult life circumstances at the time -- simply because I thought that being 30 would mean that people I met professionally would begin to take me more seriously. And I look forward to my 67th next month because I will then be older than my parents ever were -- and can put to rest that nagging little anxiety about following in my parents' footsteps with sudden cardiac arrest and death at 66.
But now, thanks to Phyllis' example, there will be a new aspect to my birthday this year -- and to Bob's birthday, three days after my own. This year, our birthdays will be occasions to give thanks: to our bodies for surviving, even thriving, through another year; to our parents for not only giving us life, but also a good start in life. And we're grateful for our friends -- both old and new -- who make such a wonderful difference every day of the year.
On our birthdays this year, we'll simply remember to tell them so.
And, in the meantime, here's to Phyllis -- and her happiest birthday yet!