The Birthday Candle
I believe in birthday candles, or at least in what they mean to me. In the back of a cluttered drawer I found a candleholder I used for my boys when they were little. It’s small and heart shaped, with a small opening big enough for a birthday cake candle. A tiny candle in its silver heart now sits on my desk, a reminder of the past, but more importantly, of the present. When I see the candle, I remember all the fun birthdays my teenage boys celebrated as children: bowling parties, nature trails, amusement parks, many happy times. But now they are older, they are becoming independent. I no longer organize their social lives.
The candle also reminds me of my own birthdays. I look at my miniature candle and think yes, another birthday, another year. I’ll admit, it’s not easy watching myself slide into middle age. But that’s not why I keep the candle. The birthday candle reminds me that although I’m getting older, my heart still beats, my still chest expands with air. I’m thankful for that.
The beauty ads tell me I can transform myself, smooth away wrinkles, appear ten years younger. My drawers hold tubes of anti-aging cream and bottles of hair dye, concealing makeup and multivitamins. But the fact remains that I’m getting older, and no amount of mending, patching, or erasing can stop the forward momentum of time.
My age has given me a perspective I lacked as a younger woman. In my twenties and thirties, ideas and dreams could wait. They had to wait. I was riding in a life train traveling at top speed. Now I find myself wanting to get off that train. I want to meditate on still pictures, not the constant flashing of images seen from a train. I imagine myself pushing the emergency stop button, and walking out into a field of violets and Queen Anne’s lace. I stand in the field, taking deep breaths of cool air.
In The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers, Joseph Campbell speaks of aging. He says that as he aged, he began to identify more with the spirit that piloted his body, rather than with his outer self. As a learned man who was also very wise, Joseph Campbell saw how stories, myths, and dreams could help him transform himself, and move from one cycle of life to the next.
I think that the ads are right. I’m sure I’ll continue to buy into the beauty myth. I haven’t given up on vanity yet. But I also see an inner change that is more vivid than anything I could do to my hair or my face. Yes, my sons are growing up. They no longer need me as they once did, and that can be hard to accept. But I also have dreams that have stayed dormant for many years, waiting to surface. And I have my birthday candle as a reminder to cherish the days as they come, and as they go.
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