December 09, 2023

COLUMN: Birthdays, gratefulness and those supporting you

Depending upon which source you want to believe, an estimated 17 million to 18 million people celebrate a birthday every day of the year.

I wrote this on the day of my older sister’s birthday. Last week my mom and my wife had their birthdays. So you get the point.

I’m still reminded of my birthday from 2022. That was the year I turned 50 and coworkers Mandy and Cheyenne went above and beyond to make sure the day was celebrated. I should not be surprised as we here in the newsroom have made sure our days were celebrated among us. Erin’s birthday was earlier this month. She started in January, so she was not here for my 50th.

I still have some of the decorations from my 50th in my office. I could have taken them down. Maybe I should have taken them down. But I like them so I can still have a visual that I am alive and able every day I come to the office. It might sound strange to use that as motivation, but I want it to work for me.

I will not go so far to say Mandy and Cheyenne brought those decorations to support me for something far deeper than a birthday. It was just for a birthday. With Thanksgiving this week, I hope we can all use the day to maybe be grateful for the people who have supported us during our lives.

I was reminded of that by a story I heard over the weekend by Rabbi Dov Brezak published by ArtScroll

About 30 years ago, an earthquake in Armenia killed over 30,000 people in less than four minutes. One father raced to the elementary school his son attended only to discover that the building no longer existed; it was a heap of rubble. Recovering from his initial shock, he remembered the promise he made to his son: “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.”

Although the situation seemed hopeless, the distraught father was determined not to give up. What kept him going was his promise to his son.

He mentally retraced the steps he took each morning when he brought his son to school and figured out where his son’s classroom was located under the rubble. Racing over to the spot of the no longer existing classroom, he began to dig through the rubble.

Other well-meaning parents tried to pull him off the debris, saying, “It’s too late. There’s nothing you can do.” But he just kept digging, responding to the skeptics with one sentence, “Are you going to help me or not?” They did not help him, and so he continued on his own.

Firefighters arrived at the scene of the tragedy and also tried to dissuade him. “We’ll take care of it. Go home.”

The father remained undaunted and just asked, “Are you going to help me or not?” No help was forthcoming because the rescue teams felt they could better use their resources where there was still hope of saving lives. At this site, it didn’t look like there was anything they could do.

The father proceeded on his own, committed to the promise he had made his son. “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.”

He dug for 12 hours, 24 hours — 36 hours. In the 38th hour, he pulled back a boulder and heard his son’s voice. He screamed his son’s name and heard a voice reply, “It’s me, Dad! I told the other kids not to worry. I told them that if you were alive, you would come to save me, because I knew you would keep your promise, ‘No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.’ You did it!”

When the building collapsed, the beams fell in a triangular wedge that protected this boy and 13 of his classmates.

Who in our lives has “always been there for you?” It might be easy to say a spouse or other relative, but it would be interesting to know if it is not someone in either category. I like to hear those stories of teenaged kids who have someone like that who is not there parent but old enough to be a parent. The person is also someone the kid’s parents know and trust.

Who has been there for us to proverbially remove the rubble that has fallen around us?

If you celebrate Thanksgiving Thursday in the stereotypical way and take a moment or two to remember what you are grateful for, I hope you include those people in your thoughts. And don’t forget them on their birthday as way to thank them for what they have done for you.