Birthdays were always big deals in my growing up years. Always a party. Always presents. Always cake. Since my mother wasn’t very good at baking the traditional layer cake, she would bake her sure-thing pound cake and put the traditional white icing with pink and green decorations on the outside. Of course, everybody knows that you bake a pound cake in a cylindrical pan with a hole in the middle, which makes it light and delicious but also makes decorating it a bit problematic. My mom, who was pretty resourceful, would cut out a cardboard disc, place it over the hole in the middle of the cake and decorate over it. That was so wonderful because the paper disc had nothing but icing and the birthday girl got to have that all to herself! Mama always made a new “party” dress for me, too, to be worn on the special occasion.
But on my 19th birthday there was no party, no gifts, no cake.
Six months before this, my father had died suddenly at age 51. I was already away from home, in college, by that time. Not being one to show much emotion, however, I never let on that my father’s death was as devastating as it was in reality. Mostly I didn’t realize the effect the loss would have on me.
Anyway, my birthday, December 3, 1972 fell on a Sunday. I didn’t go home for the weekend because I was in the college band and we had a game the day before. It was the big game, too, and my team had lost. (CONTEXT: Auburn 17, Alabama 16. “Punt, Bama, punt.”) But that was only part of the day’s woes. My mother and the rest of the family were still reeling from my dad’s death, and though I may have gotten a phone call over the weekend to wish me a happy birthday, there was no celebration, no big to-do as I was accustomed. I had friends, and even a boyfriend, but they were all out doing other things, most of them not realizing it was my special day. So, I sat in my dorm room, looked out the window over campus, watched students come and go, laughing and talking, and I sank lower than I’d ever been emotionally. I threw myself a big ol’ pity party. Anyway, just as the sun set over Denny Stadium, I suddenly had an epiphany. I realized that I didn’t have be alone if I didn’t want to. In fact, in true Scarlett O’Hara fashion, I said, “As God is my witness, I’ll never be alone again.” And for the next year and a half, I stuck to that creed. Whatever it took, I would never be without friends, boyfriends, party friends, destructive behavior friends…ever again.
The late holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.” (I find this a little odd since Wiesel and millions of Jews like him were victims of hate which is often thought to be the opposite of love.) I, however, in my prodigal years bought into Wiesel’s definition though I had never heard it. To be ignored meant to be unloved and unloved meant unlovable. And as the old song says, “You’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you.”
Like the main character in the children’s classic The Velveteen Rabbit, the once beloved toy who had been cast aside by his owner, I felt ignored and therefore not “real”, like the worn out stuffed bunny. Invisible. Nothing worse than that. During this time, I did whatever it took to make myself not only visible but the life of the party. I was anything but. I was a desperate girl in a desperate downward spiral.
Lest you think that I’m still sitting here with my lip poked out like a spoiled child because no one loved me, I must state clearly that this whole 19-year-old epiphany was a lie. Lots of people loved me then and many love me now. But even if they hadn’t, I know that I have value because God has always, will always love me. Jeremiah 31: 3 God says, “I’ve never quit loving you and never will.” (The Message)
In the next “episode” I’ll be talking about this related to marriage and how the quest to find and keep a husband to make us valuable can be another propaganda tape running in our heads.