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Jeanette R. Sefcik: Your birthday should be the most special day of the year

Every person has a need to be recognized as inherently a unique and special being.

(Kevin Sullivan | The Orange County Register via AP) In this 2019 photo, Duane Sherman, 96, poses at home with a small fraction of the 50,000 birthday cards he's received after his daughter's social media request for people to send him cards to cheer him up on his birthday went viral in Fullerton, Calif.

We’re losing a lot that is of great value in our modern society which is too big, too complex, too mass oriented and too consumer driven. One of the keys to enjoying life in this off-kilter environment is to simplify and focus on the individual.

That’s why the best “holiday” or “special day” of each year should be a person’s birthday. A birthday should be nothing more and nothing less than sheer celebration of an individual life.

Among all the holidays and special occasions that we celebrate, the birthday is the easiest to keep pure and unfettered. Its meaning is simply that once a year the life of each individual is commemorated. It’s the most egalitarian of society’s recognitions because it’s not based on merit or achievement. You “earn” it by living another year.

Each person has his inevitable turn to be in the spotlight once a year, no matter how high or low may be his status in society the rest of the year. Of course, this interpretation of the significance of birthdays depends on a person having family and/or friends to remember and mark the occasion.

A birthday is really an opportunity to help each individual meet a basic human need. Every person has a need to be recognized as inherently a unique and special being, apart from any of society’s rules and expectations.

Yes, a birthday can and should be seen as much more than the inexorable, and sometimes dreaded, passing of time. Birthdays certainly signify the passing of years, but their more transcendent celebration of the enduring human spirit should keep them as a vibrant occasion from youth to old age.

Those who agree with this broader interpretation of what birthdays are about need to help shift the emphasis from age to simply an affirmation of individual life. That special day of the year should be celebrated with equal gusto, no matter how old a person is.

And what’s the proper way to mark this most special of occasions? It’s simple. Just give of your time and attention to the person being honored, and all else will flow naturally. Remember that the goal is to make someone feel special and loved, respected, and appreciated. What you say and express in a variety of ways is more important than the “gift.” The only requirement for a successful gift is that it be thoughtful and meaningful for the individual it’s given to.

In recent years I decided that I would replace birthday cards with a written tribute to the person. I write about the person’s admirable qualities, and I reminisce about the fun and meaningful times we’ve shared, including the humorous and the challenging. Sometimes I write them a poem, like a simple limerick.

These personalized “gifts” have drawn very positive and emotional responses. The recipients laugh and cry, and tell me how much this personal sentiment means. “Best birthday letter ever!” said one friend.

So I say let’s put birthdays in their rightful place at the top of our annual celebration days, and make that day as special as possible for each person as his/her turn comes around.

Jeanette Rusk Sefcik

Jeanette Rusk Sefcik, Glendale, is a retired newspaper reporter and editor, having worked at newspapers including the Tucson Citizen, Daily Spectrum in St. George, Southern Utah News in Kanab and Lake Powell Chronicle in Page, Ariz. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.

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