This birthday, be thankful for every minute -- all 525,600 of them

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The room fell silent. Midday light slanted in through the windows. I pulled my hair away from my face, taking in a large gust of air... and diminished all 24 candles on my birthday cake.

"Ha, ha!" I said. "No boyfriends!"

All around me was silence. My family members said nothing. They were not surprised.

Some things change very little from year to year.

While I'm not a numbers person, I still find myself marveling at the time increments that make up the space between birthdays. Just think about it- that's 8,760 hours -- or 525,600 minutes -- or 31,536,000 seconds.

It all adds up -- time spent in the mundane; sitting at red lights, waiting to see a doctor, picking out a Hallmark card, doing laundry. It's also time in the fantastic; hearing news of an engagement, starting a new job or making new friends. It's time spent working through the tricky; losing a loved one, coping with loss, healing a broken heart.

Some years seem to show very little change and life holds to a steady pace; others take you on a topsy-turvy journey you never could have envisioned 8,760 hours prior.

Several months ago I was working on a story when the Spirit Lake police chief asked me how old I was. Still a naive and childish 23, I revealed my age. He scoffed.

"You've still got two years until your brain is fully developed." He told me.

He was probably trying to make a point about brain development or decision making abilities, to show me the frivolity of youth. I should've felt immature. But I found it exciting.

If what he says is right, I have one more solid year before I truly "get it," I have a go-pass for immaturity for just one more year. And, by the time I am staring at 25 candles, I'll have all of life's mysteries figured out.

By that time, I'll appreciate every second, even those that serve up nothing more than the mundane, and my patience will no longer be taxed by a long line, or a telemarketer who catches me on my way out the door. Never again will it seem as if any of the 31,536,000 seconds between birthdays crawls by.

I'll no longer question the true meaning in the tricky, no longer wonder why people choose to hurt each other, why cancer takes away those with talent and zest for life, why hardworking people lose their jobs.

By that time, I will truly appreciate the fantastic, and know that each year offers up new-ness -- new marriages, brand new baby cousins; new friends with new inside jokes, new bands with new songs that change your tune just a bit.

If he's wrong, by next birthday, I'll still have a lot to unravel when it comes to the mystery of life; but my insurance rates will go down and I'll be able to rent a car. It will be OK.

So if, at this point next year, I've extinguished yet another birthday cake with just as much efficiency as the year before and my family is once more non-plussed at my boyfriend-less cake, I know this much is true; while I know I don't find myself appreciating all 525,600 of them; every minute should be appreciated as the greatest birthday gifts you can be given.