Birthdays don’t usually faze me much. They come and they go, like any other day of the year. But this time, it’s different.
On Thursday, at two minutes before 7 p.m. (Pacific Time), I turn 60 years old. I don’t feel 60, whatever that is supposed to feel like. My friends (well, yes, they are friends) tell me I don’t look or act 60.
But at 8:58 p.m. Central Standard Time, on October 14, 1950, I entered this world through my mother’s womb. And the 21,915 days that have followed my most significant personal moment have been quite a ride.
I look forward to the next 21,915.
The Chinese say that when you’ve completed 60 years, you’ve done it all. You’ve completed one full life cycle. You’ve been around the wheel five times, which means you’ve matched your zodiac animal with each of the terrestrial elements: earth, wood, fire, metal and water.
Twelve zodiac creatures times five elements equals 60. Given that few of us ever make it around the wheel a second time, the 60th is the most significant of birthdays.
I was born with the element of metal in the Year of the Tiger. That makes me a White Tiger, Xi Fang Bai Hu.
It has taken 720 months to come back around.
Now, I’m not Chinese. Far from it: I’m a Swede-Finn. But I’ve spent an important part of my 60 years living in Asian societies, from Hawaii to Sri Lanka to Singapore.
The population of the island nation of Singapore is about two-thirds ethnic Chinese. It’s where my son was born. His longtime girlfriend is Chinese. I have an affinity for this culture.
According to one web site, “When one reaches 60, he or she is expected to have a big family filled with children and grandchildren. It is an age to be proud of.”
I don’t have a big family. I have an elderly mother, a brother who is a professor in Japan, a sister unable to shake free of a dysfunctional life, five cousins, five nephews and one adult son, Erik, who lives in Seattle. No grandchildren, although I suspect they might someday arrive.
I wonder if Erik knows that (according to Chinese tradition), when he visits on my birthday, he should offer me food with auspicious connotations.
In the morning, I will eat a bowl of long (uncut) noodles, symbolizing longevity, together with eggs. Later in the day, I will enjoy steamed wheat buns (called “peaches”) with a sweet stuffing.
A web site tells me that, in addition to these foods, appropriate birthday gifts are wine and money, wrapped in red paper.
This is good to know. If any of my friends are reading this, may I make a suggestion?
Bring wine and money. And don’t worry about the red paper.