Yesterday was my birthday. I have always, since childhood, had a complicated relationship with birthdays. Growing up in the shadow of a famous father (even before politics) I brooded about my place on this earth and whether or not I had one at all. What was I supposed to do here? Who was I meant to be? Why did God put me here? Very existential ponderings for a child, yet they were a constant for me. And they were particularly acute on my birthdays. I didn’t understand celebrating another year of life if I didn’t know what my purpose was. Family home movies of my birthday parties reveal a sullen, preoccupied girl — something I routinely got in trouble for — but I was lost inside my head, weighing important questions.
I still have an unusual relationship with birthdays — I see them as occasions for reflection, assessment. And while I still harbor the same questions, I have a few more answers now. I think every one of us was put here to make this world a little kinder, a little sweeter, a bit more like heaven.
A friend texted me a picture of a rainbow yesterday. She wrote “The sky shines in colors. Hope your special day is happy and hued.” The ancient Polynesians believed a rainbow was a ladder that their heroes climbed in order to reach Heaven.
Sadly, this world can feel so far from Heaven that it’s easy to be disheartened and think, How much difference can any of us make when cruelty and hatred are so prevalent? I do my best to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, particularly animals. I don’t understand the gleeful slaughter of wolves and the people who post things like “Smoke a pack a day,” or “The only good wolf is a dead wolf,” or “Shoot and keep shooting.” I don’t understand poachers who stalk and murder elephants and rhinos — for tusks and horns and, yes, money — who think their livelihood justifies the brutality and horror that is staining their souls. I don’t understand people who abuse and abandon dogs, cats, horses…I try to not hate these people because that would put me too close to the darkness that engulfs them. But I sometimes feel over-run by their cruelty and hatred.
So this is what I think about on birthdays, and this is what I try to remember and believe: Each one of us is here on a divine mission to leave this earth better than how we found it. Some people can reject that mission and head straight for the dark side; others will struggle with what that means and how best to accomplish it. No effort is insignificant, no mark on the wall of time is too small if it was left with love. Mother Teresa said, “There is no such thing as a great deed. There are only small deeds done with great love.”