Monday, July 19, 2010


Ever notice how kids count their age in quarter years?

Three and a quarter, three and a half, three and three quarters. Every quarter year older is cause for celebration. It's like they don't have much age to speak of, so they'll say anything that makes it more impressive.

By the time they reach their teens, they're no longer counting in fractions. But a week after their fifteenth birthday, they're almost 16. And then almost 17.

We parents do it, too. Worse. We count in months. Until a year, it's all we have. But we keep going.

"How old is your son?"

"Thirty two months."

Then we have to wait while the person we're talking to does the math in his head. If he cares.

At some point, we start counting in decades.

"How old are you?"

"I'm in my thirties."

And then people stop asking. We keep having birthdays, only they're not so much fun anymore.

I don't look forward to birthdays. At each birthday, I start counting..tallying. Having a new number that I suddenly "am" gets me looking at other numbers. And the math is never good.

New age: 29

Number of years left: 40? Maybe 50?

Number of productive years left? Years that I can make a difference to this world...change this world in some way: Umm....20?


A relative of mine lives near a cemetery. I look out over her fence, and read the gravestones.


Just a blip on the radar.

Who was she? Does anyone know she existed? She was born...she lived a full life, presumably...she loved...she had children, maybe. And then she was gone.

Does anyone remember us when we're gone? Our children do. Maybe our grandchildren. But after that...two hundred years later....does our existence matter to anyone? Will anyone know we lived? Will anyone care?

Celebrating a birthday means celebrating your life, its importance and its impact on the world around you. It means believing that you can make a profound difference and impact on our world. No person alive, no person who has ever lived, no person who shall ever live, can fulfill your specific role.

Pass the birthday cake, please.


  1. I also sometimes count how many "productive" years I have left. It's frightening and encouraging at the same time.
    But one thing I do know: that for as long as I live, I'll count to some people. Maybe not to the world, but there will always be those few people in the world that care that I'm still here. And it's the same for you. You will always be the mother of your children, the daughter, the wife, the grandmother i'yh. You will always matter. You're passing on a legacy...maybe not to the world, but to YOUR world.

    And when I pass the gravestones and read them, just like you do, I also wonder. What's her story? Was she really beloved wife and mother? Who remembers? And the answer is: Up There everything is remembered. All your deeds, your zechusim live on for eternity. And that's really what counts.

  2. I find it interesting that you should post this on my 22nd birthday. I am bringing a child into this world this year and I look forward to counting the months and quarter years and trying to make every day count. I don't know if I will affect anyone beyond those that I meet (if them even) but I know that I will leave a legacy that my children can remember and hopefully tell their children about.

  3. This very weekend a similar thought process went through my mind. Up in the bungalow colony there was a family up for shabbos who rented a unit for the weekend. A father, mother and eight children. Father is barely 40, in a wheelchair. Found out what happened to him. He was perfectly normal until six months ago. Then he was diagnosed with Lou Gherig's disease. Found out all the gory details. Basically his muscles deteriorate over time, while his mind works perfectly, and he can feel all pain. No cure, you can literally put it on a calendar. Right now, six months in, he can't walk, and his breathing is already affected. 3 years max and he's gone. An invalid until the end, death being by suffocation. I saw this guy, heard the details, saw all his kids, saw his doting wife, and I literally got sick to my stomache. Can there be anything worse? I turned to a buddy of mine, and said, "I can't take this!". His response was interesting. He said "hey, we are ALL gonna die, every one of us. Yes, he will die earlier, but at least he KNOWS the when and where. He can focus on what's important, and give himself more meaning. In a way he's better off than all of us!" I still find that perspective peculiar...

  4. At any age we celebrate our birthdays because it beats the alternative ;)

    Additionally, even our short stay does matter. We made a DIFFERENCE in people's lives - likely many lives we weren't even aware we touched.

    And as far as accomplishments go, they are compounded and multiplied exponentially by the accomplishments and successes of all of our progeny.... think about THAT!

  5. See, I'm with G6. If you make an impact, by raising kids or teaching or mentoring someone or setting up a program or whatever, you're living even while you're gone.

    If there's one thing I've learned over the past couple days, it's that whatever time we get here is what we get here. And I daven to stay productive in some form right to the end, whenever that is. I wonder sometimes about the random elderly person who tells a story to a volunteer days before he dies, and the volunteer is affected for life.

    It ain't about the quantity. Though I'm not asking to go early.

  6. SIR...

    That's a very good point. Up There it's remembered. Thank you for that reminder.


    Happy Birthday!


    Not sure I agree with that perspective, either. I don't want to die. Ever. But if I absolutely have to, I want to be healthy until the end, and I want to be really, really old.
    Really sad story...


    Of course we make a difference in people's lives. I don't doubt that. But in a couple hundred years, we're just one of the billions of people who passed through this earth.

    Staying Afloat...

    You're right, of course. I know that. Birthdays do this to me. I'll see things differently in a few soon as I get used to the new number.

  7. I once read a poem called "dash".
    It was all about how people will view you after your gone and what the "dash" between the date of your birth and death really stands for.
    was really interesting... wish i could get my hands on that poem now.

    but yeah, birthdays can be depressing...

  8. Soul Comfort, I have the poem saved to my computer. If you want me to email it to you, feel free to email me (you can get my email address from my profile).

  9. I'd love to see that poem. Sounds like it's right up my alley.

  10. I don't find birthdays depressing. They are so much fun and a great time to look at what you did/didn't accomplish in the past year and what you will/won't accomplish in the coming year. I had a great birthday this year. 22 and counting!

  11. SIR...Thanks! It's beautiful.


    Talk to me in a couple of decades.

  12. SIR: would you share the poem with me? I am really curious.

    MW: I will try to remember. My first child is iy'h due in november and I am excited to watch him/her grow up. I don't know I would want him/her to get older but me not.

  13. Okay, here it is for everyone's pleasure:

    The Dash Poem

    by Linda Ellis

    I read of a man who stood to speak
    At the funeral of a friend
    He referred to the dates on her tombstone
    From the beginning to the end.

    He noted that first came the date of her birth
    And spoke the following date with tears,
    But he said what mattered most of all
    Was the dash between those years.

    For that dash represents all the time
    That she spent alive on earth.
    And now only those who loved her
    Know what that little line is worth.

    For it matters not how much we own;
    The cars, the house, the cash,
    What matters is how we live and love
    And how we spend our dash.

    So think about this long and hard.
    Are there things you’d like to change?
    For you never know how much time is left,
    That can still be rearranged.

    If we could just slow down enough
    To consider what’s true and real
    And always try to understand
    The way other people feel.

    And be less quick to anger,
    And show appreciation more
    And love the people in our lives
    Like we’ve never loved before.

    If we treat each other with respect,
    And more often wear a smile
    Remembering that this special dash
    Might only last a little while.

    So, when your eulogy is being read
    With your life’s actions to rehash
    Would you be proud of the things they say
    About how you spent your dash?

  14. Happy birthday, Mystery Woman!

    (Or am I wrong? Wondering why nobody else said anything...)

    Similar to what G6 mentioned, as each of my mom's birthdays rolls around, she heaves a great sigh of resignation that she's again a year older. And each year we all turn to her and say, "Would you rather the alternative??"

    A birthday can mean anything you want it to mean. You can look back and see how far you've come and be proud of your accomplishments and achievements. Or you can look ahead and speculate how many years you have left and see how much you still need or want to do. Or you can be like my dad who is perpetually 48 even though he passed that number ages ago but likes the feeling of "being 48." Even though we all know how old he really is, he doesn't care--his way of doing things is focusing on the parts of aging that he likes and forgetting about the parts that would bug him if he thought about it.

    Everyone has their way.

    And about wondering whether anyone will know you lived or care....why think about that? The people who matter will know and care. And the One Above will remember everything and certainly cares. And remember...once you've moved on, what's in this world is not important anymore. What we live through now is just an's soon forgotten when we pass through to the magnificent hall beyond...

  15. I think this obsession with being somehow immortal and remembered is so vain.
    No..unless you're Mozart, Rembrandt, Napolean or Jack the Ripper, no one will remember you in a 150 years, not even the tens of thousands of offspring you have.
    That's a fact.
    Who cares?

  16. Corner Point...

    Thank you! As much as I say that I want to forget my birthday and pretend it didn't happen, it's nice when it's acknowledged. A bit contradictory, maybe...but that's how it is.


    I care!

  17. I wrote a post with a really beautiful video on The Dash.

    Birthdays are a reminder that your time is moving along but it's also a reason to celebrate and thank Hashem for keeping you alive for another year. Think about all the blessings and good things He has done for you and thank Him for it.

    May you have many more birthdays to come and may you live your dash to the fullest!!

  18. Devorah...

    I saw that post when you wrote it. It's beautiful.

  19. MW-thanks.

    Another thing. If we focused on the reason why we are here in this world, we wouldn't be so afraid of death. It's not bad to die. It's a fact of life and happens to everyone. You were put into this world to perfect yourself and as soon as you are done your job, your soul goes to the best place where you will be rewarded for everything you did and understand the reasons for all the things that were confusing while you were alive in this world.

    While you are still alive you should take advantage of your time and appreciate all the good things you have because one never knows when that last day is going to be.

    Oh, and Happy Birthday!!

  20. Devorah...

    My head knows all that...
    Thank you!

  21. MW-there's a saying (I don't remember it) that the greatest distance to travel is from the head to the heart. May you be able to feel all that!!