Yesterday was a major milestone in my life: I turned 50! My co-workers threw a surprise birthday party for me earlier in the week, complete with a set of helium balloons. I was flattered when several people poked their head into my office, asking me who gave me the balloons as a joke, having no idea of my age. I am fortunate and blessed that after all I’ve done and been through I have reasonably good health and don’t look my age.
My Facebook page was full of birthday wishes and love. Of course absent from the list of posts were any messages from several of my family members who are still Jehovah’s Witnesses. It doesn’t faze me at all. While their posts were not missed, I must say that after all these years ( I left the Watchtower organization nearly 30 years ago), I still feel uncomfortable when someone wishes me a Happy Birthday. My parents started studying when I was just two years old, so I don’t remember any of my earliest birthday celebrations. Then, when my mother was disfellowshipped six years later and my parents subsequently divorced, the birthday celebrations at her house seemed awkward and unnatural. I felt Jehovah’s shadow over my shoulder, ready to strike me with lightning for eating a piece of birthday cake, or worse, singing along to the “Happy Birthday” song. I made my full commitment to being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses just weeks shy of my 17th birthday and of course the celebrations stopped once again.
I left the Watchtower for good when I was 20 years old. My first birthday after leaving was a big one, my 21st. I had no friends whatsoever then, and went to an upscale bar in Woodstock, NY, by myself, to celebrate. Proud of my accomplishment, I told the bartender I’d just turned 21; I didn’t get any kind of reaction or congratulations. She had bigger things to attend to, like serving the other patrons as quickly as possible. I had a couple of drinks, watched the crowd and went home feeling lonely. My first birthday after leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses was no grand celebration. Leaving “the truth” behind was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. I was hurting inside and had no one to talk to about it other than my mother, who was so far removed from her days as a Witness that it was difficult for her to connect with what I was feeling at the time.
Are you a former Witness celebrating a birthday for the first time? Are you struggling with the idea of celebrating life in this way? Please leave a comment here about your experience. Sometimes just talking things through with someone who’s been where we are can be enormously helpful. I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with celebrating the anniversary of the beginning of one’s life. Jehovah’s Witnesses do celebrate wedding anniversaries, which is the start of two people’s lives together. Why would celebrating the start of one’s own life be looked upon any differently?