Birthdays come and go like vanishing smoke

Published 10:25 am Wednesday, June 26, 2024

By Steve Stricker

Mark Twain, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

There was my birth on that 10th of May, then as a wee lad in Catholic School religion class, Monsignor Charles P. Schmidt, Pastor said, “Our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve our Lord…” Amen.

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Birthdays are different for each of us.  Early on a birthday simply meant gifts, not the accumulation of numbers, until age 13 in 8th grade at St. Henry’s when I at last became a teenager and could turn my collar up and be cool. Well, I’ve not been “cool” a day in my life, then or now, and  dislike turned-up collars as being aloof…Tony Finau….

Eighteen was significant as I could get my driver’s license and in my Junior year of high school finally have and drive the beautiful 1957 Chevrolet Belair passed down to me from my three older sisters; 21 gave me a pass to enter bars and legally drink…which I rarely did.

Then, being drafted right out of college, Vietnam, July 1969-July 1970. By my May 10th, 1970 birthday, I should have been dead many times, accepted my death, and was certain I would never see the next. 

Brief bit of rare levity in Vietnam, in the mail a “birthday kit” from mom and three sisters consisting of two halves of cake, icing, and candles to be assembled – THE  best birthday cake of my life…until Scotland May, 2010. After surviving Vietnam, each and every birthday is graciously welcomed to be alive and celebrated.

May 2015, a black kitten jumped up on my open office windows, climbed the screen, and demanded I adopt it!  NO WAY!  I did not want any animal after then Scottish finance in 2011 broke the engagement and took her/our dog Doots back to Scotland with her, missing Doots more than her, knew nothing about cats!  

A year later, same cat, abandoned by its owner, slept on my patio, long story, he was God’s gift to me and not knowing his birthday, added solid black cat, Jag (Jaguar) to my May 10th one.

In 2016, having dizziness when standing, under stress, then shortness of breath – Dr. Castle dismissed it because my three month regular lab checkups were almost perfect.

On June 7, 2017 Volunteer Dinner at the Ole Miss Hotel on Campus, St. John’s Pastor Fr. Joe Tonas gave us the Novena to “Mary Undoer of Knots” and the next day began mine for answer to the dizziness, completed on June 17.  On Wednesday, June 22, 2017, regular checkup with Dr. Castle, felt great, pulse-oxygen thingy on finger, pulse “39.”  “That ain’t right!”  EKG revealed a total electrical block – top of heart not communicating with bottom.  “You need to go to ER now!” “I’ll drive myself,” only 100 yards away, “No, you won’t make it!”

Back of ambulance was perfectly calm like in Vietnam one week there almost killed, told God if he was done with me to take me. EMT said I was only one of five patients with my EKG that he had ever seen alive. 20 minutes later, new hero Dr. Mark Campbell inserted a pacemaker saving my life and making June 22, 2017 my new birthdate.

Like vanishing smoke birthdays come and go, seemingly more rapid now, but instead of lamenting each year quickly  passed, am more thankful for each and ask God only that His will be done and to serve Him.

Per Mark Twain’s quote, can’t think it possible to discern the purpose of one’s life until stepping away from the workplace and reflecting back at what was or was not accomplished.  For me it was the immense joy and pleasure working with awesome university students for over 21 years and six years with the wonderful residents of NMRC.

Happy Birthday!

Steve is an Oxford resident and received his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from The University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss.