This concept was so fraught with freight – an alternative to “fraught with baggage”; plus, it’s a nifty alliteration – I waited two weeks to finally write about it.
Acknowledging “half-birthdays” is a traditional practice among young children.
JACK (IN OUR FAMILY, ADAMANTLY): “I’m not three. I’m three-and-a half!”
I don’t know when exactly that stops. Maybe there are people with congenital “half-birthday” arrested development:
“I’m not forty-seven. I’m forty-seven and-a-half!”
I do not think that happens that much. Though I cannot say when the official “half-birthday”-acknowledging cut-off date actually is. It is probably somewhere in the teens, when interests and enthusiasms are dramatically altered.
“Is she fourteen or fourteen-and-a-half?”
Little children, however, are insistent about adding that “half”, alerting the world they are rapidly climbing the actuarial ladder. They are not “baby three” anymore. They are a “Driver’s License”-approaching three and-a-half!
On the other end of the age advancing continuum, when the “half”-counting issue returns –for some of us – it is for precisely the opposite reason. You want to hold on to the lower number as long as you can. So it’s,
“I’m not seventy-three. I’m seventy two-and-a-half.”
At that juncture, no one is in a hurry to move up.
I was thinking about that during a recent Thursday walk, when it suddenly occurred to me that the following day would mark my mid-point-to-a-year-older “half-birthday.”
Except with the most solicitous of parents, “half-birthdays” are, although joyously acknowledged, rarely “party-and-a-pony” actually celebrated. On my Thursday walk, though, I started imagining, if that “medial milestone” continued to be recognized throughout our lives, what kind of presents older celebrants would receive on the occasion of their “half birthday”?
A deck with twenty-six cards in it? A bow and no arrows? Cataract surgey for one eye?
And then, on my way back, another thought came to me. Not about “half-birthdays” because why waste an entire walk on one subject? Besides, half a walk seems the appropriate duration when considering “half-birthdays.”
I started instead to think about actual full birthdays for Senior celebrants, which, in my experience, are beginning to get old… along with the Senior Celebrant.
I momentarily considered not celebrating any more birthdays at all. That lasted about two slabs of the sidewalk. Am I crazy? I’m going to be the only one not to receive presents on my birthday. That’s like a teetotaler buying “rounds.”
Still, something in the birthday celebrating procedure felt inherently depressing to me, though I could not put my finger definitively on what.
Until I did.
Think about this.
They bring in the cake with all the lit candles on top of it, and they’re singing “Happy birthday to you…” and then the “honoree” blows out the candles. (We’ll forget about the unshared “Birthday Wish”, which, as you get older, boils down almost exclusively to “reasonably good health.”)
What occurred to me – for the first time ever – was the symbolic implication – at least for us pessimists – of “blowing out the candles.”
Why would you want us to do that?
The last thing an old person is interested in hearing about are the lights going out.
“Blowing out the candles” is like, “That me, soon. But with candles.”
Extinguishing the candles.
Where’s the “For he’s a jolly good fellow” in that?
Why not instead, I thought, – and think about this before dismissing it out of hand because you have never heard of it before – bring in a cake laden with unlit candles, and then, when the aging “Birthday Person” blows on them real hard…
The candles immediately
Wouldn’t that be better – a dazzling explosion of light before the celebrant’s eyes, rather than dead candles, and crematorial wisps of smoke?
I have no idea how you could do that – “Execution” is not my department; I’m the “Ideas Man” of the operation. (When I told him about it, my brother said, "Maybe you should inhale.") I’m just saying, what a wonderful difference it would make if, instead of that disheartening “snuff” thing, the birthday candles burst exhilaratingly to life.
I’ve got a smile on my face just thinking about it.
Okay. You’ve got six months until my birthday.
Somebody surprise me.
Otherwise, it’s just another year of “blowing out the candles.”