Today is my 44th birthday and one of my contemporaries just celebrated his 109th. How can that be? I began to explain here. Now I have a better understanding.
I laughed when my friend set his birth year on Facebook to 1905 and I reset mine to when I came to America. I’ve been celebrating that as Sidwell Day since it occurred to me that if Columbus has a Day for discovering what others discovered thousands of years earlier, I, too, could have such a Day.
But the more I think about it, the less it feels like a joke. There’s disagreement about when birth takes place, for example. My mother would have said I was born on March 25th 1944. That’s when our bodies separated. But Mother Superior at the Catholic orphanage where she grew up might have said I came into being nine months earlier.
And it’s really a lot more complicated. What is this “I” whose birthday Facebook says is today?
My body was born in England but so much of why I think and act as I do is because I’ve lived for 44 years in America. That’s why Facebook says today is my birthday. But experiences in the 26 years before I came here remain important aspects of “me.” And those experiences were set in motion by earlier ones, just as my decision to move to America had causes and conditions.
Why did I leave England? Because my grandfather moved here when my father was 9 and the ten years my father lived here were the happiest of his life. His experiences programmed me to be happy here.
And why did my grandfather leave England? Because one of his younger brothers had in 1915. He came here to make a better future and because he did not want to kill Germans. Why did my grandfather not come then? Because he was in jail for two and a half years for refusing to kill Germans.
Why did my grandfather, his brother, another brother and my father all go back to England in the 1930s? The Great Depression.
So the day WWI broke out and forced my forebears to act on their belief about killing was also a birthday. Another was the day I read Wilfred Owens’ poems and felt I was in the trenches. My body did not have that sensory experience but the poetry changed me forever.
Then I went on changing as more “real”, “imagined” and “reconfigured” experiences accumulated.
The closer I look, the more causes and conditions I see that are the birth of my feelings, thoughts and actions. None of those causes and conditions still exists in the same form. Their effects still exist, though, but they, too, are constantly being changed by other causes and conditions.
I used to imagine I and other things have an intrinsic nature. My imagination, desperately seeking a world I can believe in so I can feel secure, fabricated a realm of appearances.
The appearances are real, but not in the way I used to imagine. Everything, including what I think of as “me” is changing in every aspect in every moment.
This March 25th was, in the conventional sense, my 70th birthday but that no longer feels to be a solid truth. What feels “really true” is my birthday is in this moment, now this moment, and now this beautiful instant when everything is possible.