On Borrowed Time—at Fifty-Five: A Birthday Rant
David Weiss, December 25, 2014
In less than an hour—at 4:28 a.m. to be exact—I’ll reach my fifty-fifth birthday. Oh, and it falls on Christmas Day this year. Again. Fifty-fifth time, in fact.
I don’t mind, really. Scratch deep enough and every one of us shares a birthday with some famous character. But in my case you don’t have to scratch very deep. Churches around the world set their calendars by Jesus’ birth. Even our whole secular economy counts on Christmas shopping to turn a profit. Whether it’s getting gipped on presents (largely a myth propagated by middle school kids) or catching my first round of “Happy Birthday”s every damn year at the candlelight Christmas Eve service, it feels like my birthday falls on borrowed time. Is it okay for me to say that sometimes it feels like Jesus invades my personal space?
I’m not complaining. But I’m well into middle age now (my shoulder-length hair having not stopped the march of time as my beard now sports as much gray as brown), and it’s time to take stock. So here’s the thing: I was born into “borrowed time.” And while it may not be a direct cause-effect, and I don’t blame Jesus (hell, we don’t even know when his real birthday was, but almost certainly not December 25), my life has been indelibly marked by this other birth that always, always, always overshadows my own.
And even though I can’t be sure it starts at the manger, there is a pattern in my life that has not served me well. I’ve spent most of the other 364 days during my fifty-five years still on borrowed time. Beholden to expectations and agendas other than my own. From parents to grandparents, peers to teachers, pastors to professors, employers to colleagues, I’ve set my compass by almost everybody else’s North Star—except my own. Problem is, not to brag (because it’s not really something to brag about), but I’ve been damn good at it. Which is precisely the problem. I’ve done way better at garnering the praise of others over the years than at pursuing the satisfaction of my own soul. Lots of back pats for jobs well done. But not nearly enough dreams chased.
And not for any lack of dreams. I left my mother’s womb pregnant with words, and when they came, I loved them. I have so much to say. But so much of my energy—and so many of my words—end up on borrowed time. Obligated, spoken for, promised to. The real problem isn’t that my birthday gets crowded out by Christmas, it’s that the rest of my life has followed suit.
I’m not searching for solace. And if any of you try to reassure me that I’ve done plenty, that I have a lot to be proud of, that I’ve touched so many lives—well, say it and then step back, because you’re likely to get whacked. All true enough. But you have no idea what I haven’t done. I do.
At church tonight the pastor exhorted us, “Get up! Make haste to Bethlehem. The child is born. GO NOW! It’s already late.” I understand his point exactly, but I hear it a little differently. Yes, it is already late. But, for once I’m putting my foot down. This is MY birthday. And God’s been waiting fifty-five years for me to make haste, not to Bethlehem but to my own city, to my own life.
This year my words, my own words, get dibs over any words anyone else wants from me. I have my own really important work to do, and this year I intend to do it. And I’m sorry I don’t have a neat job title to put next to it, let alone a decent salary to show for it. But my imagination is restless, prophetic, and full. So excuse me if I bypass Bethlehem this year. I’m done living on borrowed time.
And (I actually mean this in the best possible way) I think that makes baby Jesus smile.