When I was a kid, I could only stare at my birthday candles while people sang happy birthday. On my wedding day, as I walked down the aisle and then stood on in front of a floating dock full of guests, I could not make myself look at them. I love to sing, and I actually sing pretty well, but when faced with a microphone and a room full of faces, I fold down upon myself like a crape paper.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, I am considered an extrovert. Plenty of times I’ve stood in front of an auditorium of medical professionals and given presentations without a single crack in my voice. A long time ago I realized that when I had something to say, and it wasn’t about me, I wasn’t afraid to say it. Contradictory to that fact, is that I’m not shy about telling you what I think and how I feel here in words, yet somehow, at the very same time, I would wilt in the literal face of emotional attention and/or praise.
Today is my 35th birthday. Every year I pretend like it’s no big deal and I really believe I am too old for the fan fare. But when faced with the reality that there is no fan fare, it always makes me profoundly sad. As much as I don’t want anyone to look at me with feelings of any kind, I desperately want someone to celebrate the fact that today is the day I took my first breath.
I have always found the turmoil I feel on my birthday, fascinating. How could I be both? How could I be an extrovert that shrinks when faced with attention? How could I crave the celebration, but shrivel in the midst of it?
What I am coming to understand is that this equal and opposite thing lives inside everyone.
In recent weeks I have been utterly shocked by people I thought I knew so well. People, who yesterday I would have said, “they would never, ever do… ” have turned and done that very thing I swore they would never do. This flip of human nature always leaves me breathless. I am realizing that the more I think I know, the less I truly understand.
I’m reading a book right now called Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander, MD. Alexander is a neurosurgeon who was befell with a rare and spontaneous case of E. Coli bacterial meningitis. Since I had meningitis once, and I’m a fan of the right-brained medical perspective on spirituality, this book interested me greatly. Alexander had a 10% chance of survival at the onset of his illness–a survival rate that plummeted to 0% after several days in an unresponsive coma, but not only did Alexander live, but he made a miraculous, full recovery. And not only did he make a miraculous recovery, but he came back and wrote a bestselling book about his very real near death experience in heaven. This is his vivid description of God.
“…found myself entering an immense void, completely dark, infinite in size, yet also infinitely comforting. Pitch black as it was, it was also brimming over with light: a light that seemed to come from a brilliant orb that I now sensed near me.” p. 47
“…an inky darkness that was also full to brimming with light.” p. 48
How confounding that he describes God with such a profound dichotomy of characteristics? It is hard to imagine this with our limited experience, language and abilities, but something about it (to me, at least) makes perfect sense. I feel that what Alexander says is true because the polar opposite nature of humanity is also real, and so very unreal. The fact that people can be both hateful and loving, selfish and generous, strong and weak all at the same time, often in equal measures, is truly a testament to God.
And I believe only God knows how we can simultaneously want no one to look at us, and yet crave the world to watch us sing.
Today, a day that has always perplexed me with my own feelings of emotional flip-flopping, I am going to honor these opposite sides of me. In doing that, I must also honor them in you, and those people who have so surprised me with their humanity.
Because the truth is, as black as one can appear on one side; on the other is a dazzling brightness. I believe it behooves us to honor these opposites–to see one another as not halves, but wholes. I think to do otherwise, is to deny ourselves, and ultimately, God.
So… Happy Birthday to my mixed-up/ perfectly sensical, black/white, angry/happy, inky/sparkly all-over, self. And thank you, to all the crazy/sane, sober/drunk/, happy/sad, spiteful/generous people in my life… and in the world. As much as it pains me to look into your eyes, I thank you for acknowledging that today is the day I took my first breath.
It means more than I am able to express… although I will never stop trying.
I am large. I contain multitudes. ~Walt Whitman