By Judy Dykstra-Brown

JDB Celebrations


One of my two dearest friends once told me that both of them thought I had always had an air of entitlement. This was a shock to me as from the inside out, I’ve always felt like I had to earn every bit of success or recognition I’ve ever received and that I’ve worked hard towards it. But in trying to recall the exact conversation that led up to this statement, I remembered that I had written an angry letter to my boyfriend who had totally overlooked my birthday, merely jotting his name down on a card someone else had provided for my birthday party. Luckily, I decided to read the letter to my friend before sending it to my boyfriend, and the statement above was her reaction to my complete disappointment. (No, I never did send the letter.)

Let me say first off that I harbor no resentment against my friend for her statement. I think it is the purpose of friends to occasionally bring these blunt truths and perceptions to light, and there was no malice in her statement­­­­­­­­, just a wish to furnish me with some insight into myself and to perhaps stay my action in sending the angry and heartbroken letter. She went on to say she’d never had a birthday party in her life. Now that got me to thinking, because I’m sure if I have ever been with her on her birthday, that I would have thrown some kind of a party, even if it was just for the two of us; but perhaps she meant as a child and if this is so, and if expecting some sort of celebration of one’s existence on earth means one projects an air of entitlement, then she is correct, because I am a great believer in celebrations for whomever and for whatever purpose.

Christmas is a big deal to me, even if it means making a crepe paper tree by twisting streamers from a central place on the ceiling down to the various corners and edges of the tiny desk on an ocean liner—which I did when I happened to be on a boat mid-ocean one year for Christmas. Another time, when I was on another cruise with my sister and mother for Christmas, I even packed wrapped presents and a tiny foldable tree in my luggage.

I believe that there are enough days to “rue” in this life, so given any excuse to celebrate, I’m going to take it. On Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, Valentine’s Day, May Day, Halloween, Easter, New Year’s, and Day of the Dead—I’m going to use it as a reason to do something creative and something celebratory. Yes, I admit, over the years I’ve forgotten a few birthdays of friends and relatives not physically present. One other year, everyone forgot mine—even  my mother—but when you are with me on your birthday, believe me, we’re going to celebrate it!

Such events smooth out the choppy seas of life and give us something on which to pin our memories. Think back. How many of the best memories of your life involve celebrations of some sort? If I tried hard enough, I could probably remember more childhood events centering around holidays and celebrations than any other factor. I vividly remember the costume party my sister had when she turned 13 and the complete Southern belle ruffled, hoop-skirt costume (complete with picture hat) that a local seamstress made for one of the party attendees—out  of crepe paper! My sister went in our older sister’s prom dress, complete with a wrist corsage and dance book (remember those—with a tiny pencil attached for the guys who wanted to dance with you to sign up for a certain place in line on your list?) I went as Alice in Wonderland, accompanied by my sister’s giant yellow “white” rabbit.

The only photo I have of the party shows me, as Alice, in the foreground, but you can see the young girl in her remarkable Southern belle costume in the background, as well as Patti in the polka dot prom dress. Perhaps because we have recorded them with photos, we remember these events the best, but so what? if they weren’t memorable enough to take photos, there wouldn’t be any photos to help us remember them.

At any rate, I was going to list a number of other examples of memories associated with holidays, but I think I’ve proven my point as clearly as I would have if I were to give 20 more examples, so I won’t. The point is that life is going to furnish us with countless choppy seas. In the past few months, this has been especially true with friends and friends of friends suffering terrible tragedies. In some cases, it has been almost too much to bear, but in the midst of all this sadness, we continue to plan these special life events: Valentine’s Day, Easter egg hunts, birthday celebrations, family and class reunions, summer camps for kids, special dinners with friends, writing retreats, and trips to far-off places to visit friends we’ve been promising to take for years. Because life on its own doesn’t furnish us with very many smooth spaces, I think we need to furnish them for ourselves!

Recently I quoted this statement by Will Durant to a friend, and forgive me if you’ve heard it before, but I’m gonna do it again: “Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.”

I think Mr. Durant will forgive me if I add one item to his riverbank list of activities. The word I would add is “celebrate.” It is one more everyday occurrence between people living their ordinary lives that helps to smooth out the bumps that the “big things” provide.


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