Thursday, August 25, 2005

More Than 22 Blessings and Counting

My husband is a little grumpy. This is a very expensive week for our household budget. My birthday was yesterday and my son’s is Saturday. One of us is turning 22 and the other . . . isn’t.

Well, I still feel 22. That was the magical age at which I finally felt comfortable in my own skin after an absurdly prolonged adolescence. Each year of my life until that point was marked by significant physical, emotional and mental changes. Each year of my life from that point forward seems like a continuation of the twenty-third year, more or less – like a plateau in my rear view mirror.

As the spoiled youngest child, my birthdays were a feast of overindulgence and guilt. Ever since my son's birth day three days after my birthday, my celebrations have always been dwarfed by and usually spent in preparation for his – and I couldn’t be happier. Ever since I was diagnosed with breast cancer twenty-nine months ago, my birthday feels like a triumph over cancer – and I couldn’t be happier. The Finn Brothers, Neil and Tim, collaborated on an album, Everyone Is Here, inspired by the death of their mother. The haunting, melancholy lyrics from their song Edible Flowers tell my story. “Everybody wants the same thing. Everybody wants the same thing, to see another birthday.”

Ages and dates and numbers are all relatively trivial, as I have learned. Cancer is a powerful clarifying agent that can put such statistics into immediate perspective, although I recommend less severe methods, such as faith and love. When my husband and I began dating, I was obsessed with the number 22. No, that was not his age. Actually, he was 21! Twenty-two are the years that separate our birthdays. I used to worry endlessly about the effects of the normal aging process on his feelings for me, but he pursued and persuaded little old neurotic me.

Conversely, my husband feels and acts like he is 50. Don’t blame me – he was a fully formed, mature, responsible man when I met him. That is why he always takes such good care of me, no matter what; why he is a loving stepfather who has helped our son become a remarkable man in his own right; why he became Vice President of his company at 24; and why he is now Senior Vice President at 26.

You see, I worried needlessly about age and the normal aging process. All my adult life I was assumed to be younger than my actual years and never really appreciated it. Then breast cancer came along, followed by chemotherapy, menopause and hormone blockers. Finally – presto, chango – I look my real age and it ain’t 22. There is no cure for cancer or aging, but love heals whatever ails me. I won't lie. Looking older is no fun but, trust me, it is better than the alternative. Every day my family and friends remind me in countless ways, without even trying, how blessed I am – and I couldn’t be happier.

So here I am, deeply grateful to celebrate another birthday and my son’s birthday and every precious, God-given day that feels like a victory. Next year, God willing, I will celebrate my 50th birthday with my adoring, amazing, almost 28-year-old husband, free of cancer and petty neuroses – and he will still be the old fart of the family.

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