By Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, July 2010)

Happy Birthday, America! Happy Birthday, family! July is a month of birthdays around my house. We celebrate the lives of several people in my family around this time of year, as well as participating in the national celebration of being a country, of being on our own — which is true for any of us. A birthday is an acknowledgement of being on our own; a celebration of life, but also a celebration of being personally independent, with the capacity to grow, to become, to learn, to change, to create, to breathe, to breathe life into, to impact, to shape, to share (and the list goes on).  Birthdays are wonderful! Independence is wonderful!


Birthdays are hard. Just ask the person (and you know who you are) who just celebrated the 15th anniversary of his or her thirty-ninth birthday. Just ask the person who turned thirty-eight and looks back on his or her life and realized they have “skated” to this point and now feels they must be responsible with their life before it is too late (and are wondering if they even know how). Just ask the thirty-seven year old who is questioning the legacy he or she is establishing for their child and wants “to do something significant” (or crazy) to make a difference and “be somebody worthy” (though they already are) of the respect and love of their child.

Independence is hard. Just ask the high school graduate who is on his or her own for the first time and is totally responsible for the grades he or she makes. Just ask the college graduate who is on his or her own and must pay for an apartment without any outside financial assistance. Just ask the young couple who are holding a newborn child and have to remember what the birthing class teacher said about the correct way to swaddle, not to mention the really important stuff, like feeding, sleeping, bathing, changing, and overall raising of another human being (puppies were not this difficult). Just ask the Baby Boomer whose friends are dying and his or her “nest egg” is on the rocks due to the economy and are wondering just how long they can make it. Just ask the town who has to make the choice to widen its roads to create more business and more jobs and thus more income for its community or to pay its teachers who just happen to shape the minds and hearts of little ones who will eventually lead that community.

Upside to birthdays: cake. Downside: unnecessary calories. Upside to independence: can eat the cake in one sitting if you want. Downside: extra weight, a sugar high (which can have an upside), and then a sugar crash (totally not fun).

Yet the upside and downside of birthdays and independence are the substance of life, particularly here in the good ole USA (in spite of the results of the World Cup 2010); and should be celebrated. In the celebration we embrace it all, the upsides and downsides, especially if we allow ourselves to be embraced by others during the celebrations. It is tremendously impactful to our souls to be celebrated, and to be embraced. Celebrating, being celebrated, embracing, being embraced is a sure sign of our independence, of the solidness of our personal sense of self, and of our choice to depend on, to trust an other, and to be in and of our world with acceptance, grace, truth, and love. These are the foundations for personal community. And only in community do birthdays and independence really matter.

To talk further about personal community, independence and a solid sense of self, please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact us via our website at Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama. And yes, he too was annoyed by the crazy horns of the 2010 World Cup matches.