This is one of the essays that will be included in the forthcoming book of Boreham essays entitled The Chalice of Life, a collection in which F W Boreham deals with life at its various stages.
Every day is somebody's birthday. It is reasonable to suppose that, here in Australia, about twenty thousand people are celebrating the great event today. In every city, town and settlement in the Commonwealth:
This is somebody's birthday,
Just as sure as fate;
Some little twins are exactly two—
Some little girl is eight.
Someone is eating his birthday cake
And laughing over the plums;
Someone is counting her birthday dolls
On all her fingers and thumbs.
Someone is bouncing his birthday ball,
Or winding his birthday watch,
Someone is not too wise or tall
For birthday butter-scotch.
To all such, the birthday is a notable occasion. However long we live, we never quite lose the romance of the birthday fuss and frolic. And the very fact that each of us, of whatever age or rank, is susceptible to the birthday sentiment, forges a bond of sympathy between us all. One touch of Nature makes the whole world kin. A birthday represents that element of essential humanness which unites a monarch on her throne with the lowliest of her subjects. Each of us has a birthday once a year: each has but one; kings and queens can have no more.
Yet, when all is said and done, birthdays are mere records of time, not registers of distance. They are chronometers, not speedometers. They tell us how long we have been upon the road, not how far we have travelled.
The distinction is fundamental. It will never do to judge of our progress by the time we have taken. It will never do to suppose that because we have been many days on the highway, we have therefore covered an enormous stretch of country. It is possible, like the tortoise, to go a very short distance in a very long while.
The fact is that the soul has milestones of its own. It declines to measure its advance by any of our artificial standards. The importance that is attached to birthdays, for example, implies that my pilgrimage began at birth, and that all my progress is to be reckoned from that point. But that is ridiculous upon the face of it. The soul laughs at such an absurd method of calculation. We might as well tell a man to walk from London to Edinburgh, and begin to count his progress from York. For the soul reckons that it has got over the worst and most ticklish bit of the road by the time that birth comes about.
I am well on my way when I am born. Oh, the thrilling adventures and the hair-breadth escapes that befell me on that first stretch of the road! When I come to think of all the loves and the hates, the births and the deaths, the comedies and the tragedies, that had to take place through the long agony of the ages in order to produce me, I am astounded that I did not lose my way along that difficult and dangerous stretch of the road. When I think of what might have happened if some old forebear of mine, away back in the age of the cave-men, had taken it into his head to marry the woman whom he murdered, or to murder the women whom he married, it seems to me a perfect miracle that I got here.
When I read of the barbarous ages of slaughter and carnage and brutality through which my long line of ancestors threaded its fearsome way, it is perfectly astounding to me that not one of them got stabbed or clubbed or shot until they had duly taken their places in that long genealogical list. When I think of the wars and famines and pestilences through which those forebears of mine came unscathed, I catch my breath.
In view of all this, you will never convince me that birth was merely a starting-place. It was my first milestone; and I had got over by far the roughest and most perilous stretch of the road when I had safely passed it.
I cannot leave this subject of birthdays without reminding myself that life presents every person with two supreme and indispensable imperatives. It says: You must be born! and it says: You must be born again!
Unless he be born, he simply is not: there is nothing more to be said about him.
And, unless, having been born, he is born again, he cannot hope to see the Kingdom of God. It is the milestone that must be passed: there is no other way Home. To make the attempt would be to court the fate of poor Ignorance, who, from the heights of heaven, was hurled into the depths of hell. He had never been to the Cross; had never seen the three shining ones; had never known the rapture of being loosed of his burden. `Except you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.'
Paul never forgot the milestone that he passed on the road to Damascus. Augustine never forgot that wonderful day in his garden at Milan. Hugh Latimer never forgot that talk with little Bilney in the confessional box. Luther never forgot that scene on Pilate's staircase. Bunyan never forgot the four poor women sitting in the sun. Wesley never forgot how his heart was `strangely warmed' at Aldersgate Street. Mr Spurgeon never forgot the little chapel at Artillery Street, Colchester.
The man who has passed such a milestone is more than half-way Home, however many years he may yet spend upon the road.
F W Boreham, ‘So It’s Your Birthday!’ The Tide Comes In (London: The Epworth Press, 1958), 14-16.
Image: Birthday Blessing.