Why celebrate a birthday?

Nobody judges you for getting older, but when people find out how old you are, they do sometimes judge themselves: “You’re thirty? I can remember our vacation together when you were only sixteen! My, how old I’m getting.”

On the one hand, there’s no logical reason to celebrate a birthday. Humans have decided it’s important to honor an individual on the same day each calendar year for nothing more than aging. When you ponder that cold logic, you might conclude birthdays are frivolous.

Yet on the other hand…

I recently finished listening to another On Being podcast with Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. In 2015, Sandberg’s husband, Dave Goldberg, died tragically from a cardiac arrythmia that led to a fall from a hotel treadmill. He was 47.

Two years later, Sandberg has been very public in discussing how the tragedy changed her.  Here, she reflects on her new thinking about birthdays:

“Two months ago, my cousin Laura turned 50, and I called her the morning of her birthday, and I said, “Laura, I’m calling to say happy birthday, but I’m also calling ‘cause — in case you woke up this morning with that, ‘Oh my god. I’m 50. I’m getting old’ thing we all do, I want to tell you that I’m so glad you’re 50 because this is the year that Dave won’t turn 50. And it turns out — I’d never thought about this before, but there’s only two options: we either grow older, or we don’t. And it is an honor and privilege to turn 50, and I am so grateful that you are alive and in my life.”

And I used to roll my eyes at birthdays and either not celebrate them, or “Oh my god, I’m getting old.” If I get to grow old, I will be so grateful. And that gratitude, with all the sadness that still lingers, makes my life deeper, richer, meaningful, and in some ways, has a different kind of meaning and joy.”

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