I lost four close friends and a brother in the past year. I dutifully sent a charitable contribution to the designated causes each of them favored, but it got me to thinking. About eight years ago my friend Dianne (who died four years ago) threw herself an 80th birthday party. She asked guests to bring, not gifts, but a contribution to one of her three favorite local charities. So when my turn at reaching that 80 year milestone came about on June 30th, I decided to build on her example–both the party and the request. I had a specific charity in mind.
I love books. I read them, I write them, I share them, I give them as gifts, I donate to libraries. In December, one of my four granddaughters, Caroline, will receive her BA in elementary education and embark on her teaching career. (No worries about finding a job. She’s a great student and a natural teacher, and there’s a serious shortage of teachers in our state.) She and her cohort of December 2021 gradates from the University of South Carolina–Aiken are building their libraries with a plan to pool and divide their stashes of books when they get their teaching assignments and find out what grades each of them will be teaching. I have been buying books for Caroline for the past year, but Dianne’s example led me to say to my invited birthday guests: no gifts please, but if you want to contribute a new or lightly used book suitable for grades 1-5, it would be appreciated. My 25 party guests contributed 60 books to the cause and had great fun picking them out.
I am sure that when I die, people will be invited to contribute to a charity in my name. In fact, I have written out instructions for my executor to that effect. But as we get older, and birthdays become a celebration of just still being alive, we need fewer things and more legacies. It can be a source of joy to experience that legacy while we are still here. My passion for books will be embodied in six classroom libraries of brand new teachers come January 2022. I encourage you all to consider what your passion is and how it can become a part of the next big birthday number coming up that ends in a zero or a five.