Sunday, January 22, 2006

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0059 - Birthdays


Tomorrow is my youngest son’s birthday. He’ll be seventeen, starting his eighteenth year. I can hardly believe it. So much ahead of him. So much already behind him. This time next year, he could already have submitted his applications for university.

Today, he opted to go out for a celebratory feast with the family at Boston Pizza and to receive his gifts from his brother and from my wife and me. Not a bad choice considering that tomorrow is not only January 23rd, his birthday, it is also election day in Canada. Just a year-and-a-half ago we were in Ottawa for Canada Day during the last federal election. We saw the prime minister and his wife, watched the fireworks on the banks of the Ottawa River, visited with my nephew, toured the museums and galleries, and had an early celebration of my eldest son’s seventeenth birthday.

What a difference a year and a half makes. Now it looks like we’ll have another party in power, another prime minister, and one of the most challenging years our family has ever faced together. By the time my wife’s birthday and my own birthday arrive in May and my eldest son’s birthday in early June, I will have undergone abdominal surgery and started a second round of chemotherapy in my fight with rectal cancer.

There has been a major shift in the way I think about birthdays. Ever since the diagnosis of cancer, I find my attitude about family birthdays is simple – I just want to be there. BD, before diagnosis, I wouldn’t think much at all about birthdays. I expected to be there, for quite a few years at least. Now, celebrating another family birthday is a blessing with unanticipated dimensions. Being there isn’t something I can realistically take for granted any longer. If I am, then that in itself makes it special.

Just a few days from now, we will be celebrating the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (January 27th). I’ve never really expected that anyone would be celebrating my birthday 250 years from now, even though I’m sure most ambitious people secretly harbour a hope that immortality of that kind is possible. Instead, over the years I’ve come to realize that the most significant contribution I can make towards my own immortality is living the life I am given as fully as possible. This was BD. But now, AD (after diagnosis), that life lesson has a pronounced poignancy.

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