Thursday, August 19, 2010

Have a Birthday

While our fair society wrings its hands over the "Ground Zero Mosque," (no link -- it's not even worth it) I am preparing to celebrate my 40th birthday. Hold your applause: it wasn't too difficult to reach this milestone. I just woke up everyday and kept breathing. Because I am surrounded by kind people who love me, everyone wants to know what I am doing to celebrate.

I have this dilemma every year, not just this year. Let me say right here that I am not at all melancholy about turning 40. I am actually quite happy about it, as I am finally at an age where I can pretty much do what I want, having proven that I can't mess things up too much without backing up and starting again. No, my annual birthday quandary has more to do with weather than time.

By late August, it is almost guaranteed that we have witnessed one or more damaging phenomena of summer. Hot weather kills, in many ways. Gun violence increases, old Polish ladies die in their homes, and sharks and other water nasties have claimed victims. And then, there might be a hurricane.

My touchstone hurricane until 2005 was Andrew in 1992. Sweeping across south Florida, Andrew came after a summer of riots in Los Angeles following the Rodney King verdict. Andrew has, of course, been replaced on my perch of bad weather memories by Katrina.

If you want to read about Katrina, I would recommend either Dave Eggers' "Zeitoun" or Josh Neufeld's "AD New Orleans: After the Deluge." Neufeld's book is a graphic novel, Eggers' is not, although the cover makes it seem like it is.

Perhaps I am burying the lede here, but I think Katrina was a worse disaster for us Americans than September 11. Both could be seen as attacks from outside, but I believe that Katrina's horrible impact and legacy was ultimately our fault and exposed how divided and ignorant we can be.

The truly terrible part of the Katrina story began the day after my birthday, when the storm made landfall in Louisiana on August 29. But when you are watching people die on television, actual dates are irrelevant. My birthday always tastes like a stale season at best, and yet another example of how far we have to go to make a truly sane and just society, at worst.

It's hard to celebrate something so easy as a birthday when you have spent the last few months watching tragedies and knowing that many people won't see their next year. I think Katrina was especially powerful for me because it forced to me to ask myself what I am doing to help create a world where people don't have to die because of ignorance, neglect, or fear. I understand that death is inevitable, even death by natural disaster. But man-made disasters are hard to take in a world where clearly the will and the brains exist to create wonderful things. By August, I have had my fill of watching the human race fail to live up to its potential.

So perhaps you can see that by the end of August, I am pretty much ready for fall. Bring on the cooler nights, back to school, Oktoberfests, long sleeves, and casseroles. And when it comes to birthstones, I'll go with September's sapphire, thank you very much.

Thanks to for the lovely image.


Marc said...

Good post.

My longstanding gripe with our birthday month has been that it meant back to school. I think it's taken 20 years for me not to automatically get anxious this time of year.

Lotta said...

Happy Birthday from another August Virgo birthday. 39 this year..I'm catching up!

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