There are occasions during the course of a year which give one reason to look back and reflect on where they've been and what they've done over the last year. In the Jewish religion, we have Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur, which afford us the chance to try to right the wrongs we've done in the last year. Among the secular culture, New Year's Day, with its famous resolutions, afford people the opportunity to resolve to make their lives better over the course of the next year.
There is another example of a date that can be used for reflection and resolution -- one that is personal to each individual person. That day is one's birthday. Everyone has a birthday once a year (even those people born on February 29 have a birthday every year, it's just celebrated on March 1st.) and can use it as a chance to look back at the past year and reflect on the upcoming one.
Most Orthodox Jews are well aware of the fact that they have two birthdays, one in the Gregorian calendar and one in the Hebrew calendar. The two calendars sync up on a nineteen-year cycle, so that every nineteen years, most people have their Hebrew and English birthdays together again.*
Today is my birthday, and it is a birthday that is a multiple of that nineteen year cycle. This affords me a chance to not only look back at the last year, but also at the last nineteen, and reflect at where I was in life nineteen years ago, what has changed for me since then, and what things might be like (and what I want them to be like) nineteen years from now.
Nineteen years ago, I was a young kid.
Now I am fully an adult.
Nineteen years ago, I was thin.
Now I'm fat -- although in the interim, I was fat and thin and then fat again.
Nineteen years ago I had a girlfriend with whom I wanted to spend my life, with whom I wanted to raise a Jewish family and with whom I was completely in love.
Now, I'm married to that same girl, have three children, a home of my own, and realize that what I felt then for Eeees was barely an infatuation compared to the feelings I have for her now.
Nineteen years ago, I was in my first year of college.
Today I'm applying to go back to college yet again.
Nineteen years ago, I had four living grandparents.
Today I have one.
Nineteen years ago, I had five aunts who were all happily married.
Today, only two are still married. Two are divorced and one is widowed.
Nineteen years ago, I was helping Skipper (my sister) get through high-school math.
Today, I'm helping Walter (my son) get through high-school math.
Nineteen years ago, I was a firm believer in a young earth, in biblical literalism and an avid follower of the books of R. Avigdor Miller and the like.
Today, I'm an old-earth Creationist. I'm pretty convinced of the truth of evolution, of the age of the Universe and most of the evidence that is used to support it. I'm far more skeptical today than I was nineteen years ago.
Nineteen years ago, I had pictured that I would make my mark writing fiction.
Today my non-fiction is read far more widely than my fiction ever was.
Nineteen years ago, I was just beginning to appreciate the value of Jewish learning. Having come out of a wasted high school career, I was certain that learning Gemara was a waste of time. The beis medrash I was enrolled in back then was slowly beginning to change my mind.
Today, I see immense value in Jewish learning. I see that it can teaches and instructs us in how to live our lives. I have learned to see value and opportunities for understanding in lessons that I might have considered obviously false and worthless nineteen years ago. I've learned to appreciate Midrash for what it is, and not for what others try to make it out to be.
Nineteen years ago, I would have believed anyone who told me about mekubalim, miracles performed by modern-day rabbis and the like.
Today, I'm far more skeptical. I'm not saying that it's impossible, but I've set the bar of proof a lot higher than I used to.
Nineteen years ago, I followed professional baseball passionately.
Today, I follow the game casually. I watched about two or three innings from the just-completed World Series. Other interests have caused baseball to fade into the background. Now, I spend more time on photography, on game design, on my blog and with my family.
Nineteen years ago, I didn't appreciate how much my parents put into raising Skipper and myself.
Today I have a far better understanding of what they went through.
Nineteen years ago, I was conflicted about who I was and what I wanted to be. I wasn't sure if I belonged in the yeshivish crowd, or among the Young Israel crowd, or in any of half a dozen other groups.
Today, I am finally comfortable where I am, in the middle of no particular group.
Nineteen years ago, I could barely learn Mishnayos.
Today, I just recently completed a siyum on all six sedarim of Mishnayos.
Nineteen years ago, I never could have imagined the Internet.
Today I earn my living through it. My life (and just about everyone's) is permanently changed because of it. Sometimes I wonder how I got through most of my life without it.
Nineteen years ago, I was a social wallflower.
Today, I'm still somewhat of a wallflower... but thanks to Eeees, I've become more social over the years.
Nineteen years ago, I was a slow-to-anger kid... it took a lot to get me upset, but when I finally got pushed over the line, I let it all out.
Today, I've learned to control those outbursts so that I don't even let it out anymore. I try to keep it as bottled up as I can and let it out in small doses over time.
Nineteen years ago, I was an Emergency Medical Technician.
Today I have no inclination to go into the medical field at all.
Nineteen years ago, I had just been fired from a job as a Ba'al Kriah for incompetence.
Today, I am a competent ba'al kriah, thanks to a shul where they were willing to work with me and help me to improve my laining.
Ninteen years ago, I thought I knew everything.
Today, not only do I not know everything, but I know that what I know now will be nothing compared to what I'll know in another nineteen years.
Nineteen years ago, I was committed to leading a life of Torah and Mitzvos.
Today, I still have that same commitment.
That's a brief picture of where I was back then and where I am now. I suppose the next question is, where am I going? What will I be like in nineteen years? What do I want my future to be like in nineteen years? Well, let's see, in nineteen years, my kids will all be in their 30s -- far closer to my current age than they their current ages. It's likely that all of them will be parents as well. With HKBH's help, they'll all be living Torah-observant lifestyles, raising their children to do the same.
But what about me? How do I see myself in nineteen years? I'm not sure that I can answer that... and maybe that's a failing on my part. I suppose I see myself having a lot more books in my head, both Judaic and secular. I certainly hope to see myself better able to learn Torah and far more advanced in my Torah learning than I am today. But I also hope to be far better read in science, literature and culture than I am today. I hope to be able to further build my skills in debate and rhetoric so as to be able to better articulate my feelings and ideas. I hope to become a better lomed mikul adam (someone who learns from everyone else).
And I hope to continue falling even further in love with Eeees; and that she does so with me. :)
* Alas, this isn't the case for me. Nineteen years ago, the cycle was off by one day for me. Furthermore, the cycle will again be off for me in 2026, 2045 and 2064. The next time these two dates come together on this cycle is in 2083.