Vibrant as at the beginning

BIRTHDAYS have never been news in our family. Like the early Americans who routinely noted in their diaries the passing of another year, we have never been big on celebrations. Yet my wife's birthday this year prompted me to look at the occasion philosophically and historically. The two of us are as we were 27 years ago when we were first married: There are just the two of us; the children have left the nest.

To be sure, the children called and sent Mallie presents, but there was no doubt of the low-key temper of the day. As we spent the evening reading, interspersed with viewing a television show, I couldn't help looking at Mallie out of the corner of my eye and note that time hasn't harmed her in the least.

She is as fresh and vibrant at the end of a long day as she is at the beginning. When we take our long walks hand in hand, she still has the bounce in her gait that she had during our courting days. Her cheery disposition -- no matter the problems of her working day -- lights up the lives of the numerous people she comes in contact with, just as it animated the response of our children when she read them marginally interesting storybooks.

Although I can recall the first phone number we had in 1959, Mallie seems to remember the really important things, such as the details of sharing an evening a quarter-century ago with friends. Or the delightful attributes of a deceased relative or associate. While I try to be lean in word and speech, Mallie is never short with anybody -- and our phone bill is testimony to the fact that in this day of instamatic action, Mallie's talk is like the grits she was raised on -- nice and slow.

Life for us has not only come full circle, but it has added the dimension of perspective to our view of each other. The excitement and passions of youth have been replaced with the insight into, and appreciation of, little things. In that sense, quiet reflection on a birthday is not an exercise in growing older -- but in growing better.

Thomas V. DiBacco is a historian at the American University.

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