by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
Do you know the most popular song in the English language? It’s a song that brings in approximately $2 million in licensing revenue each year. A song that’s been sung to infants and presidents and been performed in homes, schools, businesses, playgrounds and even in space. Although it’s been translated into countless languages, it’s often sung with its English lyrics in countries where English is not a primary language.
The song? “Happy birthday to you!”
Imagine two Southern kindergarten teachers (sisters) in 1893 who write a little ditty that they hope will be a useful teacher’s aid and instead compose the music to a song that is sung millions of times each year around the globe. The original lyrics were a classroom greeting entitled “Good morning to all.” There doesn’t appear to be any definitive proof of who actually wrote the lyrics “Happy birthday to you.” The first known written version of this song didn’t appear on the American scene until 1935, using the sisters’ tune, but it didn’t take long before it had become a worldwide hit.
I guess since I’m expecting to be serenaded with this song by my family in three days, I have birthdays on my mind. I remember when birthdays were the most special of all days. It seems at least in the first half of our lives, birthdays are the coming of age, bringing with them privileges and opportunities that we often long for — such as the age we go to school, the age we can get our driver’s license, the age we get to vote.
Age also brings with it the loss of benefits, such as when you’re too old for a kid’s meal or a child’s movie ticket or amusement park pass. However, I recall being excited when I was too old for such things, because this meant I was nearing the world of adulthood. Of course, age also brings the return of similar perks when age labels us as qualifying for senior rates and specials. My oldest brother is happy about this, mostly because this means he can now receive senior discount coffee at his favorite fast-food restaurant.
I think I’m going to be like my grandmother, who was born on Feb. 29 during a leap year. No one was ever certain of her age. In fact, most of my life I remember her being 76 years old. For some reason, she liked this number. I think I’ll stick with 49 myself — indefinitely.
Perhaps we give age too much credit and power. After all, the calendar year was created by man, not God, and the number of days and months in a year has changed throughout history. I guess humankind has found it helpful for its historical recording to have some type of calendar date to include in its notes. But who knows how many days were in the calendar year in the days of Noah? The first time “year” is mentioned in the Bible is in reference to the 600th year of Noah’s life!
Ever wonder when age became an influence on abilities and a determinant for the length of life? I’ve always been intrigued by an account I read in Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. She told a story that was reported in a London medical magazine, The Lancet, published I presume sometime in the 19th century, about an insane woman who apparently had been disappointed in love and lost all account of time and years. Believing she was still living in the same hour when she was parted from her lover, the woman stood daily at her window watching for his return. Some American travelers saw her when she was 74 years old and guessed her to be a woman under 20.
This woman’s mental state kept her physical appearance young — no wrinkles, no gray hair. She never thought herself to be growing old, so the passing of years didn’t make her age.
I don’t know that I can convince myself that years don’t make me older, but lately I sure like that idea. Certainly, if one believes in eternal life, then that doesn’t just mean life has no ending. It also must mean life had no beginning. So there is not much use for a calendar in eternity.
In the Bible, Job describes age well when he says, “Thine age shall be clearer than the noonday; thou shalt shine forth, thou shalt be as the morning” (Job 11:17). When I ponder these words, age feels fresh, young, new, invigorating, lively — like anything is possible in a new day. Maybe those two kindergarten teachers had the lyrics right for a birthday song. I think I’ll ask my family to change my birthday song lyrics to:
Good morning to you,
Good morning to you,
Good morning dear Annette,
Good morning to you!
I feel younger already!