I celebrated my 28th birthday last Sunday in usual fashion, with a fine cigar and a glass of whiskey (scotch this year; in the past, it's been bourbon). I perform this ritual alone, after dusk, out in the cool of the summer evening, when I am able to sit with my thoughts.
That isn't always a good idea. A couple years ago I was feeling uncharacteristically sorry for myself--the effects of a quarter-life crisis, among other things--and the occasion's particular vices did not help the situation. For the most part, however, it is a positive tradition; I reflect upon the previous year's blessings and give thanks to have lived so long.
Sometimes my mind returns to that November night when I could have lost my life. And so I'm intentionally conscious of this gift more frequently that once a year on my birthday.
Every morning, my very first prayer intention is, "In thanksgiving for the gift of life." Regardless of how lonely I am, how few things are going according to my feeble plans, or how deep in self-pity I may be, I'm always grateful to have been awakened by the radio and opened my eyes to the dappled sunlight through the bedroom curtains.
There is great joy in the details of life: the shimmer of melting ice mixing with scotch; the rolling wisps of smoke rising in the breeze; the dry sweetness of ponderosa. The delight of making a beautiful girl giggle; the scar on my mother's chin; curling up with a dog on a carpeted floor. The bread and the wine.
I exist because of the selfless love of my parents; I recognize the selfless love of a Creator who has touched the tiniest speck with His Beauty so that we might know Him; and my life has meaning when I share, however insignificantly, in that selfless gift of Love.