Yesterday was my birthday. Over the years, I've had a love-hate relationship with that particular event. For one thing, my birthday falls on Valentine's Day, which is a day set aside for love and romance. As I've mentioned in earlier blog posts, I was quite unpopular when I was growing up. I had few if any friends, other kids told me I was ugly, and at school, I endured what today would be called bullying. It was a time that valued tradition and conformity, and I was just too different. Girls were expected to love makeup, high heels and frilly dresses (to this day, I love none of these). But I loved watching baseball, listening to rock music, and dreaming of a career-- at a time when a girl's only dream was supposed to be finding a husband. I also was not blessed with the genes that made me look like a Playboy Bunny, so I had no boyfriends; to my knowledge, I was the only girl in my neighborhood not invited to the senior prom. And every birthday, the only cards and Valentines I received came from members of my family. Truth be told, I dreaded birthdays-- not because I feared getting older, but because they were an annual reminder of how unlovable I thought I was.
Fast-forward to yesterday. I am 69 now-- I've never lied about my age, nor understood why women are expected to do so. I have no idea what being 69 means today; we Baby Boomers have redefined a lot of things, and after all, I got my PhD when I was 64. Still, whatever meaning age 69 has, I hope to set a good example for it. Meanwhile, a lot has changed since my teen-aged years, most notably the fact that I no longer dread either my birthday or Valentine's Day. Accepting myself was a long, slow process, but I did finally reach a place where I decided birthdays aren't so bad; and these days, I am grateful to be alive (I think most of us cancer survivors feel that way). But what I still find puzzling is the reaction to my birthday on social media: by my last count, nearly a thousand people have reached out to me on Facebook and Twitter. In many cases, they are people I've never met, who know me from my ongoing friendship with Rush. In some cases, they are former students; people I've mentored or encouraged over the years; people who heard me give a talk somewhere (or met me at a Rush-related event); some former and current colleagues; members of Rush's management and immediate family; and amazingly, a few former enemies who for whatever reason have decided it's okay to wish me well!
If you had told me when I was growing up that I would have that many people sending their good wishes in my direction, I never would have believed it. And yet, for whatever reason, that's what happened. People often criticize social media for its excesses, and yes, it can definitely be a place where rudeness, outrage, and conspiracy theories reign. But let's not ignore the other side: at its best, it can also be a place where there is encouragement, comfort, and even love. That is what I saw (and felt) yesterday, and I am both surprised and grateful. I'm glad that thanks to social media, I've come into contact with so many interesting people-- many of whom have views far different from mine, yet who keep in touch, and not just on my birthday.
Yesterday was also the one-year anniversary of my first blog post: you can read it here. http://dlhalperblog.blogspot.com/2015/02/yes-my-first-blog-post.html I never planned on blogging: I was recovering from cancer surgery and to keep my mind occupied (as opposed to worrying), I signed up for a course about political campaigns, a subject in which I've always had considerable interest. The professor insisted that we all have a blog, and that we write about current events. Had he not made blogging part of our grade, I doubt I would ever have started. I believed then, and still believe now, that the world has lots of bloggers and probably doesn't need more, but now that I've done it for a year (and gotten an "A" in the course I was taking), I will probably continue. I doubt my blog will make me famous, but it's nice to have a vehicle for expressing my opinion. I understand that the most page views occur whenever I blog about Rush (between 2500-4000 views, according to the blog statistics); but even if much of the time, my readership is small, I'm glad I can contribute to the public conversation, and I hope every now and then I say something interesting.
So, thank you to those who remembered my birthday, thank you to those who have kept in contact with me, and especially, thank you to those who have taken the time to read my blog. Coming as I do from an era when all communication was either in person, via letters, or by telephone, it's still amazing to know that I can exchange ideas with folks from Pakistan or Finland or England as quickly as I can with folks from here in Massachusetts; and it's also gratifying to know that even those who disagree with me still feel I'm someone they want to talk to. I'm sure as the presidential campaign heats up, the discussions may turn more contentious, and yes, I fully expect some folks will disagree with what I post. But for now, I have nothing contentious to offer. I'm just happy to be able to express myself, and appreciative that there are people who care about what I have to say.