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Saturday, June 16, 2012
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I’m one of those people who want to ignore birthdays. Well, my own birthday, anyway. When I was a kid it was great, a small version of Christmas, the promise of loot and bounty! As well as a bit of attention.

But after college, the attraction started to wear off for me. The attention from others was nice, but I started to see the irony of being appreciated on one day out of the year. I used to call it “queen for a day” (I was thinking of an old afternoon TV show from the 1960s, not a gay thing). Come the day after, it’s back to being just another schmoe. Add 1 to the date of your birthday, and that’s “Happy Schmoe-dom” Day.

Then you hit 40 and 50, and every birthday serves to rub it in that “life passes swiftly by and opportunity is lost”, as the Buddhist Evening Gatha says. I didn’t stop counting after 40, as some people joke about, but I stopped playing it up. I became more and more gruff when people at work would mention it; I even walked out of a surprise birthday party (obviously that my last birthday party at work, even though I walked back in after a minute’s pause to regain my wits). Nowadays, I get together with my brother at a restaurant as the sun sets on my ‘special day’, but otherwise the anniversary of my birth has become just another day. And that’s just fine with me.

So, I couldn’t stop from indulging in an ironic chuckle the other day when I saw an article about the chances of dying on one’s birthday. A recent Swiss study of 2.4 million people suggests that the chance of dying is higher on one’s birthday — 14 percent higher, on average. The risk increases with age, to 18 percent when you pass 60 (which I soon will).

Increased suicide accounts for a portion of this effect, but not the majority of it. There are more accidents, heart attacks and strokes too. The scientists who did the study rejected the notion that this effect was driven by sick people struggling to make it to their next birthday (which would imply that birthdays are a good thing). The data seems to support my theory that making a big deal about birthdays is stressful and depressing for many people (i.e., older people).

PS, One of my uncles died on his birthday. Given the circumstances, I don’t think it was a coincidence. So if you’re over the age of 40, watch out for them birthday blues!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:37 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, I can somewhat see you point in this blog. But then again, I think you are making way too much of both how important one’s birthday is and how “dangerous” it might be.

    I can certainly understand the point about the fact that as one gets older, one makes less and less of one’s birthday. In some sense that’s true. But then again, as I look at my own situation (which admittedly was a very one different from that of others), my birthday became “just another day” about the time I reached my late teens. So I never really gave that much attention to it–except as you note, to add one more year to the time of one’s life.

    Yet, somehow I find, the older I get (and I’m going to be 78, entering my 79th year very soon), the more of a “kick” I get out of it when I get a call from my siblings and they say/sing “Happy Birthday”. I find myself smiling at their simple celebration over the phone of saying “Happy Birthday”. It is just happy.

    As to birthday’s being a good day to die statistically: First of all, it seems to me that the old adage should be clear–one can make statistics do whatever one wants them to do. So, I don’t care too much about that.

    Secondly, I found myself contemplating how soon I might die recently; and it dawned on me: How many very young people die in car accidents, are shot on the street, are just plain ill and die of sickness; then there’s (in almost every city) a “children’s hospital” for those very sick and very young children. So it seems to me that it’s not only “old people” who have a corner on the market of dying.

    With that tho’t I realized that absolutely EVERYBODY can (and may) die at any time. I find myself wondering: Is when we die preordained even before we are born? OR is it something we choose as we proceed through life? I don’t know the answer. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two? Who knows.

    All I’ve figured out is that I just might as well forget about the whole thing about “dying” and live well the life I have to live and be happy with that. I decided to let it go at that. And I like that decision. MCS

    [Mary, glad that you like birthdays. I don’t. Sorry that you don’t like statistical studies. I do. Each to their own, so long as we respect our differences. Jim G.]

    Comment by Mary S. — June 17, 2012 @ 10:29 am

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