An Odd Birthday (Boy)
My 33rd birthday was a birthday unlike any other I’ve had – at least as an adult. Frankly, October 5 has always been one of my least favorite days of the year. I didn’t like my birthday or anything associated with the celebration of it. It’s not a fear of mortality deal or a denial of aging thing, I just haven’t liked the attention that comes with a birthday. I remember using an upcoming test as a reason for not going out on my 21st birthday – which is comical for those of you who know how little I studied in college or law school. Last year, I went to work, removed my Facebook account for the day, then left an hour early to take TD to a Toy Story 3D double feature. This year, however, was different – I owned my birthday this year. Understanding the change, though, requires an exploration of the roots of my anti-birthday attitude of yesteryear.
I haven’t fully grasped why I’ve been so reluctant to enjoy a day that some people look so forward to, but I’m willing to explore it publicly – which may also be a reflection of the changes that have occurred in my thinking.
- Fear of Exposure. I think that I’ve spent decades operating under the fear that if the spotlight landed on me, I’d be exposed for “what I really am.” Have you ever thought this way? I didn’t want people to find out I wasn’t as confident as I acted like I was. I wasn’t as smart as I tried to act like I was. I didn’t want the people who knew me to see the person that I saw when I looked in the mirror. So I hid behind a façade, allowing people to only see the parts of me that I wanted to advertise while locking up the ugliness.
- Not Worthy. Not only was my fear of exposure detrimental to ever having truth and intimacy in my relationships, it also acted like a cancer. I ran around hiding my perceived weaknesses thinking I was making myself more loveable, more attractive when, in fact, the opposite was true. I was simply making it more difficult for people to be attracted to me or love because I wasn’t giving them something real to cling to. I was a fraud, and that lack of integrity led directly to a lack of intimacy. And, as a result, I attracted a lot of people who also wanted to avoid intimacy. But here’s where things get most ugly: these intimacy-free relationships act like steroids for the cancer. I was surrounded by people who wouldn’t/couldn’t get close to me, so those fears of exposure became stronger. And the death spiral of fear and feeling unworthy took a grip and started any joy from my life.
- Edith Piaf. I’m a fan of Edith Piaf’s music, I admit it. Her life was brutal: born on a street in Paris (literally born in the street), she was the child of a café singer and a street acrobat. Before leaving for WWI, Piaf’s father took her to his mother, who ran a brothel in Normandy where Edith would be raised by prostitutes. She started working as an acrobat on the streets with her father at age 14, had a child at age 17 who died two years later from meningitis. She was implicated in the murder of a night club owner but never faced trial. She dated a pimp who took a portion of her singing money in exchange for not turning her out as a prostitute, had an affair with a boxer that died in a plane crash, married and divorced a singer, then married a hairdresser-turned-entertainer that was 20 years her junior…all while battling addictions to morphine and alcohol. Hers wasn’t a life any of us are going to sign up for.
Yet, history has remembered her as something different. Edith was portrayed brilliantly by Marion Cotillard in La Vie En Rose, a role that won Cotillard an Academy Award for best actress. She’s in the Grammy Hall of Fame. She appeared on the Ed Sullivan show eight times. At her death in 1963 at age 47 from liver cancer, her funeral procession drew tens of thousands to the streets of Paris with over 100,000 people at the cemetery funeral. And you can find a few hundred of her songs on iTunes.
So what does Edith Piaf and I have in common? I suffered from the same disorder that she suffered from: I believed the lies I told myself – who knows where that would have left me. Fortunately, I had a few people in my life that reflected God’s character to me and helped me understand what Jesus’ death really meant. And that’s why my birthday was different this year. I could actually allow people to love me and to give me attention without anxiety tearing me apart inside. What an incredible blessing: freedom from fear and lies. Freedom to have life, and to have it in abundance.
Here are my questions for you: Who/what do you live for? Who are you trying to impress? What are you hiding from the people in your life? And to what end? What does hiding it get you? Do your answers accurately reflect the way you live? Or are you deceiving yourself?
A year ago, I couldn’t convincingly answer those questions. Hell, I couldn’t answer them at all, let alone answer them convincingly. Can you?