This past week, I celebrated the anniversary of the day I was born. No, I’m not saying how many anniversaries, but the years are adding up. (And for those who already know how many, SHUSH!) I have gotten in the habit of making a big deal of birthdays, thanks to my dad, who never forgot a special day, and always did his best to make sure the day was as special as the person being celebrated. As a child, we made trips to a nearby lake to fish and picnic, to a state park to swim, or he asked someone to make a special cake for me when I accompanied him on a preaching assignment. I also watched him celebrate my mother just because he loved her. (He was allergic to chocolate, but would always bring her a hot fudge sundae with nuts when he returned from the nearest town, seven miles away. That is LOVE!)
As an adult, there have been periods when I have heard friends diminish the value of celebrating birthdays, perhaps because they were shown that it’s just another day or they may feel embarrassed by the attention. Or the years are adding up and have negative feelings about aging. At any rate, I have always believed that everyone needs a special day to be honored. I frequently receive questioning looks when I plan to celebrate my day at Disneyland. I’m not sure what the problem is. I suppose if I were married, a quiet, romantic getaway might be more appropriate. Since I’m not, the excitement and joy of “The Happiest Place on Earth” is my choice, and I refuse to apologize for that.
Here’s why. The weight of work and responsibility can be overwhelming at times, and allowing myself to enjoy being around the wonder and excitement of children reminds me that play is an equally important part of life. One incident at the park this week confirmed this notion. Disneyland is celebrating 60 years of fun and imagination. (And before you get all bent out of shape about the money being made off of poor, unsuspecting consumers, hear me out.) While our party was situated at the front of a designated viewing spot waiting for the recently updated Electric Light parade to begin, a mother asked if two children could stand in front of us when the parade started. They had tried to view the first showing, and had been cut off by taller adults and were unable to lift the four-year-olds for an extended period of time so they could still see. We gladly agreed, and made room for them in front of us. Little did we know that these two girls would provide as much, if not more, entertainment as the parade. They shared the exiting parts of their day, showing us their autograph books and naming the characters who had signed them. They got excited for every character in the parade, and when we saw the two characters from Frozen coming toward us, and asked who they were, they both, in unison, with all the energy they had, raised their arms, jumped up and down, and screamed, “Anna and Elsa, Anna and Elsa,” at the top of their lungs.
Whether you’re a fan of all-things-Disney or not, witnessing this childlike joy and excitement put life into perspective. When did life become mundane? Why do we let the mundane take away our joy and excitement so often? When did we decide that adults don’t act like that? I have so much in my life for which to get excited. I have to return to reality, but how can I make it exciting every day? I have a career I truly love. I have coworkers and clients who inspire me. I have family and friends who stand by me through thick and thin. I want to be exited about the “normal” in life and celebrate that life each day.
As these thoughts were meandering around my brain, another situation came to my attention. In recent years, the term “funeral” is spoken less regarding the formal gathering for a loved one or friend who has died, and the description “celebration of life” is used in its place. I’ve been to some of these events and they are truly celebrations of what the deceased has accomplished or the love he or she shared while alive. (The service for my paternal grandmother was one of those.) I can certainly appreciate the sentiment, and I know that many shared their feelings and thoughts while the loved one was still alive. I want to take on the challenge of celebrating others when they can hear or read my words and “feel the love.”
So … how about taking on this challenge with me. I dare you to handwrite a letter or card. To a coworker who has made your load lighter or shown strength of character. To a friend who is always willing to hear about your difficult days. To a family member who needs to know they are important enough to hear some sweet words from you. (Not an email or text alone. A handwritten note. Please.) Celebrate life now. Before someone is gone and you’re saying those things for your own comfort. (Not that that isn’t okay, as well. But really. Do it now.)
If there is any business who takes celebrating life seriously fun, it’s Disney. You may not believe in some of the concepts they support, but you have to agree that their mission is celebrating life, and cast members are taught to carry it out. And there is no requirement of proof. I wore my “It’s my Birthday!” button three days, and I can tell you it is very special when hundreds, including other guests, offered greetings. Two different eating establishments offered small, free desserts. (Not to mention, feeding my roller coaster addiction.) On top of that, more than 100 friends took the time to acknowledge my special day on social media. I feel truly loved, and I have pictures and notes to go back and read on days when the chatter in my head has me believing differently. (I know I’m not the only one who hears the negative chatter.)
Celebrate others. Allow others to celebrate you! Get excited about who you are and what you have to offer. I would dare to wager that if you’re excited about your life, those who matter will get excited with and for you.