Posted by: Mark Nielsen | August 20, 2008

It’s My Birthday! (and for once I’m actually glad)

For whatever reason, I’ve often been fairly unenthused about my birthday, and about birthdays in general. I suspect there may be some secret shameful childhood experience at the root of it all, about which I’ve been in denial all these years. Like, maybe at my fourth birthday, I couldn’t even blow out four measly candles, so my friend Paulie pushed my face into the cake. It didn’t happen that way, but maybe something else happened to put me off birthdays for life.

Maybe it’s a “tough guy” thing. Celebrating birthdays can be a fairly sentimental experience for the person being celebrated, and for the other celebrants. So for people — especially men — who have gotten used to keeping their feelings at arm’s length, it gets complicated when everyone in the room is looking at you or wanting to affirm your good qualities. Especially complicated if you don’t think you have any good qualities.

I’m not fishing for compliments or well-wishes here. I know I have good qualities. I’m glad I was born 43 years ago. I like my family, and the name they gave me, and all the other genetic and material inheritances that they also gave me. (Though I could have done without the acne-prone, scarred skin. Sorry, Ma. That’s one gift I’d return if I could.)

Speaking of names & parenting, the other night my son reminded me of how tied our names are to our identity and security (a point I’d already been mulling over since my rites of passage last week). If we’re lucky, we are given the names we have for a reason, maybe even a kingdom-of-God reason (tradition, symbolic importance, that sort of thing).

When I was putting Graham to bed, I told him I’d missed him when I was away, and that I told everyone I was with how great he is. He smiled, drinking in the affirmation. Then I said goodnight, to which he replied, “Goodnight, Dad.” But as I went out the door, he called after me, “You forgot to say my name!” So I came back, kissed him, and said “Goodnight, Graham.” Why he needed to hear his name out loud is a bit of a mystery to me (kind of like birthdays). But the fact that he needed it, and that I was conscious enough to provide it, that’s what counts.

So, um… my new kingdom-of-God nickname– given to me last week while meditating– is Spider. Maybe I’ll explain later. Not Spider Man. Just Spider. It’s awesome, a great early birthday present. Partly because I’ve always wanted a nickname, partly because of the symbolic implications of the name, both in the real world, and out here… wait for it… on the web.

“We’re the insect life of paradise: crawl across leaf or among towering blades of grass — glimpse only sometimes the amazing breadth of heaven” – Bruce Cockburn, Isn’t That What Friends Are For?, (c) 1999

“I need new ideas for the web…” – Charlotte, in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, (c) 1952

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