Celebrating a Birthday in Isolation

As friends and family know, April 18th was my birthday: I’m 81 years old this year! Normally, if the weather was fine, I would have celebrated by enjoying a dinner outside on the patio with my children and grandchildren. This April is not normal, however—for me, or anyone else.

All the same, I did honor my birthday, even in isolation. Acknowledging birthdays is part of “honoring oneself,” which is advice I try to follow, not just give to others. Even if no one else knows or acknowledges my birthday, I know. That alone is usually enough to put a smile on my face. It means I’ve lived through another year. THIS is the day I was born and I’m happy to still be here.

Like New Year’s, a birthday is also a day to reflect—to think back on the year I’ve just completed and recall and savor the high points. Those days spent painting, the trips I’ve taken, those beautiful moments with family or friends—sharing a meal, a walk on the beach, a gorgeous sunset, a funny incident—are what make life worth living.

Like New Year’s, a birthday is also a day I use to set intentions for the year ahead. What do I want to spend more of my time doing? And conversely, are there habits, patterns, or practices I’d like to shed? A year from now, what do I want to be able to look back on having experienced or accomplished? (This year, my intention is to paint more, publish and promote my new book, and spend more time with my grandchildren! There are four of them now, with a fifth on the way!)

My birthday is also a day to experience gratitude for all the people and experiences that have helped to shape the life I’ve had—starting with the parents who gave birth to and raised me, the siblings I shared my childhood with, the friends and colleagues I’ve met along the way, the successes I’ve enjoyed, and the failures that steered me in new directions—and ultimately, to greater success.

Due to the coronavirus, this year I spent my birthday at home with my wife, Loralee. We enjoyed making a nutritious (and delicious!) breakfast together and eating it on the patio. I got to talk with each of my children and grandchildren by phone throughout the day. I also received calls from other long-time friends and family members. I did my usual work-out at home and, for dinner, Loralee and I shared a mushroom pizza from our favorite pizzeria, Gjelina’s, in Venice Beach. We didn’t have birthday cake, but we did have several chunks of my favorite dark chocolate! Then we watched Brothers and Sisters a dramatic series about a wealthy family whose patriarch dies, leaving secrets and conflicts to be resolved. (Even though our challenges may be different, we all have them.)

Although I savored the day, this year’s anniversary was also sobering. That’s because, for over a decade now I’ve been warning about the dangers of social isolation: of allowing device-mediated relationships to replace physical relationships and about the issues of stress, loneliness, and chronic mental and physical health conditions that are likely to result. Humans are intensely social beings; we need connection with each other as much as we need food and shelter. Although this global pandemic has forced us to rely on device-mediated relationships, or nearly none at all, I hope the enforced isolation will help us realize and appreciate how much we need each other in the flesh. My birthday wish is that, when our isolation order is released, we will take the time—and make it the priority—to nurture and cherish our real-world relationships.

Want to read more about the importance of honoring yourself? Check out my little book on the topic.


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