I concur on the subject of Impermanence,
but for one point
I will leave the world only if it is a day before you do,
so I never have to live in a world without you in it.
When I was in kindergarten, my dad told me he made $100 a week and I thought, My God! We must be the richest family on earth! And I had no evidence to the contrary. I was never hungry or thirsty. I was never worried about where I was going to sleep. I always had clothes, even if they were hand-me-downs. I always had a toy to play with, even if it was a sword fashioned from a sapling my dad cut down in the woods behind my house.
My parents were two kids trying to raise two kids, and if you want to know the truth, I am glad I grew up poor.
My dad had a rule that we could always have any book we ever asked for. And so my imagination had been 'round the world a dozen times before I ever even started school. My mom had a rule that we could always have affection, any time of the day or night. And so I never felt unloved. The currency of adoration in my world is still hugs and books and magic, actually, because I never developed a taste for stuff.
I don't remember much about my birthdays when I was a kid, even though I know there were presents. And anyway, my birthday isn't even my favorite one to celebrate. My very first memory is my sister's birthday. March 31st, 1980. Her very first day on earth. The beginning of her is the beginning of me. When I laughed, she laughed too. When she cried, I cried along. When I hit her, she hit me back. And we giggled and sobbed and walloped our way through the world together, hand-in-hand, lives intertwined for always.
I was in my college library writing a paper on the female labor force in World War II when she called to tell me she had cancer. I quoted Stalin. I thought about how he collectivized agriculture and killed millions of people. I wondered how many lives it's fair to trade for the progress of an entire nation. She said, "That lump isn't just a lump." And I wondered where I could sign on a line to trade my life for her own.
She had her first surgery on my birthday. There were more surgeries. There was radiation. There were hazmat suits and gallons of lemonade and years of tests and bloodwork and experimenting to find the right drugs.
I was in my college library writing my senior thesis on Bill Clinton's foreign policy when she called to tell me she was officially cancer-free.
I don't know how long it took from that first cancer call until the last one. It seemed like a hundred thousand birthdays had passed. But on the next one, the next birthday after the last cancer call, she held my hand and we ice skated around in the middle of a Christmas festival in the middle of Scotland in the shadow of the Castle of Edinburgh. We ate waffles with chocolate sauce and whipped cream and strawberries. We talked about Harry Potter and JK Rowling and how surely she had that very castle (on the hill, just above us!) in mind when she was writing about Hogwarts.
I'm not very good at birthday presents, really. At choosing them or buying them or remembering them in the first place. And I'm not very good at receiving presents either because when I say, "I can't think of anything I want." I mean it. I have t-shirts. I have books. I have enough hugs to power the sun.
My favorite birthday present isn't a present at all. On the day I was born, in the hospital in which we were both born, they cut open my sister so she could live.
And she did.