Today is my birthday. Very exciting, but it’s tempting to make it bittersweet.
At age 16, James was wrongfully convicted for a brutal rape and murder along with his brother, Jonathan Barr. James told me yesterday that he was the main subject of the State’s case. They said he was the trigger man–that he was the orchestrator.
Working with exonerees and at the Public Defender, I’ve met my fair share of accused criminals. I want to be very clear: James Harden is one of the most loving, kindhearted souls I have encountered in my life. Not just a nice exoneree. To even fathom that he could commit this crime is an injustice. He said yesterday, “Don’t these people know that if I was even close by, I would have never let this happen to her?”
I have never asked for the specific details of James’ story. Probably because my response would be the crying that occurred yesterday. Nevertheless, I heard some details and received a some valuable lessons.
What came up first was a whole lot of guilt. I have such exciting and fun plans for my birthday weekend. How do I reconcile this silly fun with what this man has gone/is going through? My brilliant friends, Rebecca and Sonja, answered this question. Rebecca articulated reason:
Focus on this: he is out and as a result of this experience he has grown tremendously. He has the opportunity to live a different life and he has the resources and friends to help make that happen. We can only live the lives we have–what you’re doing this weekend is having a little fun, which you deserve.
Then Rebecca made a beautiful distinction between what we deserve vs. what we’re entitled to. I’m not entitled to celebrating my life and my birthday, but I do indeed deserve it. Guilt does not serve anyone.
Do I actually want drinking and debauchery for my birthday? Honestly, part of my dynamic self does–yes! I deserve to enjoy my birthday.
Sonja described so eloquently: Birthdays can be looked at as an affirmation of life and an affirmation of hope. Choose to look at this tragedy as a celebration of humanity, because this beautiful man is no longer in prison.
So here is what I want for my birthday…
I want you to celebrate YOUR life. Feel alive and well. This is why we are born. Know that it is a gift to be a free human being– to go outside and breathe. Recognize that what ever your practice, law, yoga, finance, it is fundamentally a human endeavor. Come back to that and you can celebrate life everyday.
Happy Birthday to each of us!