Find a way to make each year count


“Beautiful child, how thoughtlessly we enter the world! How free we are, how bound, put here in love’s name to be happy if we can.” 

— Elizabeth Spires

It is easy to embrace the gift of candles on a cake when we are children, time crawling ever so slowly, our feet cemented in place. It is not until the years tick by that some are inclined to ignore those birthdays, chalking it up as just another day.

My dad was not one of those adults. He loved birthday celebrations and was known to remind us in jest that we only had a set number of shopping days left until his big day, marking his words with a smile and a wink.

My own children were still quite young when we gathered to celebrate what turned out to be their grandfather’s final birthday. Cort created a Chinese checkers board with colorful crayons, a gift to his beloved grandpa, depicting something the two of them loved to play.

“This is the best artwork anyone has ever given me … I’m going to keep it right here beside me,” Dad said to his young grandson.

Caroline, just learning to read, wrapped one of her favorite books in colorful paper, gifting something very special.

“I think we should read this book together,” Dad said to that little girl as she climbed up on his easy chair. “Will you take it home with you and keep it in a special place for me until my next birthday?” Caroline nodded, embracing the plan, loving the man.

It says so much that this man, who raised himself and his younger siblings in a haze of sorrow after his vibrant mother died unexpectedly at age 35, somehow always knew how to read the room and create joy for the people he cared about. He loved his family deeply, but more than just his own, he genuinely cared about everyone.

He believed in sharing what he had, welcoming people who wished to hunt his land, search for arrowheads, spend a day fishing or ride along in his combine or tractor cab.

Along with my mother, their home was a welcoming place, the coffee pot perking, the door wide open. Their round table made a great place for visitors to chat. Dad listened. He asked good questions, truly tuned in to whoever sat across the table from him. He leaned in. He listened with his whole heart, and he committed to memory stories shared because each person mattered.

Tomorrow, I will celebrate the same number of candles on my own birthday cake as my dear dad did on his final celebration. It is a realization I carry like a fragile egg, feeling its importance though inexplicably not knowing how to weigh it, unsure of how to honor its immeasurable value.

Old age is a gift denied to many, so the saying goes. My father knew this with a deep wisdom before he should have ever had to, and his childhood pain burnished a smooth well of loving-kindness.

An old soul before his time, my dad lived his life with a generosity of spirit. As I walk beyond the number of birthdays that he was given, what I hope most of all is to honor the man who reminds me, still, that each day is precious.

Lean in. Care deeply. Live honorably. Soak up the presence of loved ones and strangers, just waiting to become friends. And never, ever forget to celebrate birthdays with a wink and a smile, accepting with great joy each present wrapped by loving hands.

Each candle is a precious gift. Find a way to make each one count.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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