Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Pangs of Birth; The Pangs of Hunger

My Dad has a great little ritual. Every year on the eve of my birthday he says, "This is your last night of being [insert age here]." He has been doing this for each of his 5 children for as long as any of us can remember. He also does his best to make sure that his children and grandchildren receive a birthday card from him on their birthdays. Not before, not after. Sometimes, though, the cards come a little early.

My card came today.

I keep every birthday and Christmas card my Dad gives me.

He's 82 and picked it out himself.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I would be lying if I said I greeted it with enthusiasm this year. I enjoy celebrating my birthday. Why not? I have quite a bit to be thankful for. But this year, it falls on Ash Wednesday. A solemn day, even if it is not a Holy Day of Obligation.

Resentment reared it's ugly head right around the beginning of January, when it occurred to me that I would have to fast, not feast. My first thought was, "Sheesh! I've lost the privilege of having ice cream cake, cookies and candy on my birthday (and the remaining 364 days as well), now I have to abstain from the foods I can still eat? How is this going to be a great birthday?"

My friend Antonia rejoiced when I told her my problem. "Oh God has seen fit to give you a gift. How wonderful!"

She has this wonderful quality of responding in a way that is both heartening and challenging to a situation, sifting through the hubris and getting to the essence of a thing. I thought she was nuts, but I also knew she was right.

For the past month and a half, I have been grappling with looking at this birthday fast as God's gift to me. Like any epiphany I've ever had, the answer came when I stopped thinking.

My birthday isn't about me. It's about my mother. And my father. Forty-eight years ago, in the deep dormition of winter, my mother nearly died from the pangs of childbirth. My father would have been a young widower with four children. They were looking for a miracle and got one. She pulled through to live another thirty-six years.

I don't know what was going through either of their minds that night. Perhaps they felt abandoned by God in that trying moment, like Christ on the Cross. My mother crying out in pain, and my father at the prospect of having to raise children alone.

The truth of the matter for me is this: I cry out most to God when I am suffering.  My hunger pangs tomorrow are but a slight reminder that I am in need of a savior. That there is a God who wants me--who wants to be in relationship with me.

My birthday will begin with the beautiful reminder that I am nothing without God; that I am born of dust and to dust I shall return. The pangs will be disconcerting; they will jolt me back into remembering that I am not God. They always do.

Happy Ash Wednesday, my friends.