Monday 16 September 2019

Lay of the Land: Why birthdays are not the only new beginnings

Stock image
Stock image

Fiona O'Connell

It's the eve of New Year's Eve; meaning time is running out for 2018. Maybe it's telling that younger folk generally view the year's end as an excuse to party. Whereas the older we get, the more we tend to batten down the hatches and just get through it. Perhaps we see the parallels between the dying year and our own mortality; breathing a sigh of relief with the birth of a new year after the frantic fuss over the passing of the previous one.

Though some people tidily come full circle when they shuffle off their mortal coil; like the creative genius who coined that phrase. For it is said that Shakespeare was born and died on the same day.

While John Adams and Thomas Jefferson - the second and third presidents of the United States of America - took things a step further by passing away on the same day exactly 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. They were such great friends that the last words of 90-year-old Adams were supposedly: "Thomas Jefferson still survives." Though he was wrong about that, Jefferson having taken his leave five hours earlier, at the age of 82.

Back to birthdays, with the most common months to make your appearance being May, September and October. While more babies are born on Tuesday than any other day - unless it falls on Christmas Day, that is. For the least common birthdays - after the leap year of February 29 - is St Stephen's Day followed by Christmas Day. So a birthday this season makes you special. Perhaps that's the consolation prize for getting joint Christmas and birthday presents - if anyone remembers your birthday at all.

It's hardly surprising that we prefer fresh starts to the angst that can accompany Auld Lang Syne, especially as few of us are in any hurry to find out for sure if there is a hereafter. Though reflecting on the fact that we know our birthday - but not the one that will turn out to be our death day, so to speak, could help us make the most of them all.

Because whatever awaits us in the new year ahead, the big question is whether there is more to come after our package holiday on planet Earth ends. Emanuel Swedenborg, the theologian and scientist who lived during the Enlightenment, believed that "absolutely everything (in heaven) appears in its loveliest springtime and its loveliest bloom, with stunning magnificence and variety". He added that "almost all the people who arrive from this world are astonished as they can be to find that they are alive and just as human as ever". In particular, atheists are "profoundly embarrassed" to discover they still exist, despite having exited stage left.

Making funerals surely the ultimate surprise party, where we get to witness our loved ones toasting our memory.

Then again, many of us are so sick from festive celebrations by the time the new year arrives that we feel (if not look, hopefully) like death warmed up. And all too happy to hibernate, before emerging anew in the spring.

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