The Battle For Morale: Reflections on a 40th Birthday Party & Being Over The Hill

It’s a faint memory of mine as a child. But I’m pretty sure I was with my mom, or maybe my dad, I’m not positive. But we were at a store, and for whatever reason, were in the balloon and party favors aisle.

Whichever of my parents I was with, they were occupied finding whatever it was they needed for whatever birthday party was upcoming.  

As they did their thing, I got hung up on the grim-looking, black and white section whose message on all the so-called favors read, “Look Who is 40 – Over The Hill Crossing”. There was a bad clip art person with a walker, or cane maybe.

I wasn’t sure what hill they were referencing, but I knew I never really wanted to go on the other side of it.

40 = ancient dinosaur. That was the message that got filed away in whatever part of the brain that stores long term memory.

Time is funny though, huh?

The clock, it keeps ticking.

All of a sudden, here’s 40. Knocking down my wife’s front door, asking her to go with her over the hill.

And me, a few months behind them on the path.

Brooke’s 40th was last Sunday.

Six months ago, we started kicking around all sorts of ideas.

Go back to the place we honeymooned, when love felt more like a feeling that never evaded us.

Or maybe a big gathering with all of our family and friends, but Brooke is more the small, intimate crowd type.

So maybe a trip with a few couples, a low-key getaway weekend.

Flights got booked, hotels almost reserved, plans made.

And then? Well, for us, some life stuff happened, making us postpone the trip anyway.

And then a few weeks later? A stay-at-home order during a global pandemic.

I played outfield growing up, and I’m not sure where the origin of the phrase came from, but that option came out of left field.

That one wasn’t on the roadmap as we kicked around our options.


No gathering.

No nice dinner.

Heck, not even a movie with some commandeered Skittles and Twizzlers.

Just a Sunday at home with 5 kids, a few pets, and a husband while one decade’s chapter closed and another one began.

I’ll come back to 40 in a minute. Hang with me.

I heard a phrase on a podcast, while I was on a run, that made me stop and write it down.

“We’re in a battle for morale.”

I wish I could give credit to the wise person who uttered this. It may have been Brene Brown. Or Rich Roll. Or someone else entirely.

But I paused the Nike running app and scribbled that in my phone.

We’re in a battle for morale.

Damn, that’ll preach.

I don’t need to tell you what it’s like out there. But a few clicks around the news sites and a few scrolls through social media, and it feels like we’re all being launched into that “over the hill crossing”.

Morale is low.

We’re scared.

We’re tired.

We’re unsure.

We’re angry.

We’re lonely.

We’re in denial.

We’re sick of Zoom calls.

We’re panicked.

We’re frustrated.

We’re weary.

We’re confused.

We’re judgmental.

We’re wondering when shit will get back to normal.

At least I am. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for you too.

So here we are.

In a global pandemic. In the shared, human experience of suffering. Praying, reading, trying to live in this new reality, yet not knowing who to trust or where to turn.

We’re in a battle for morale.

And on Brooke’s 40th, something incredible happened.

The sun came up. The kids woke up. Balloons got filled. A coffee shop’s drive-through was open. Almost 40 dear friends and family sent Brooke a digital happy birthday video as a surprise. A local, hustling, certainly impacted, small business owner came and put some awesome signs in our front yard, that read, “COVID IS THE STORY, BUT BROOKE IS 40!”. A family up the street, all walked down the street, rang the doorbell and serenaded Brooke with their rendition of the HBD song. The sun stayed out. Some yard projects got tackled. Some great messages poured into Brooke’s phone and social media. Some small gifts got opened. Some letters read. Some friends socially-distantly walked with Brooke (and drank wine, obviously).

And then…

As if the list above wasn’t enough, almost on cue, out of left field, the morale showed up. In the form of 20+ cars, vans and trucks that met in a parking lot outside our neighborhood, and then streamed past our front yard.

Kids in pickup beds, homemade signs, drive-by gifting, obnoxiously awesome honking, a walking family playing kazoos, a custom cake delivery, and maybe my favorite – a family blasting 50 Cent’s ‘In Da Club’…Go Shorty, it’s your birthday, we gonna party like it’s your birthday…

Born in the 80’s, raised on 90’s rap.

The morale showed up. In a major way.

The humans, the same ones who are feeling all of the scary stuff above, set that aside and showed up.

The goodwill, connection, and friendship offered to Brooke (and all of us) in that organic birthday parade was far better than any party, or trip or celebration we could have planned for her.

Frankly, I was kinda worried her birthday was gonna suck. And that we’d have this memory of being quarantined on her 40th.

But it fell far from the suck end of the spectrum.

Maybe it was the different kind of crossing we needed to get over that 40th hill. The one we thought would be black and white, all or nothing, full of fear and panic. Maybe we had to crest that uncertain hill, hit it head on, and battle for our collective morale.

Because as scary and uncertain as all this is, we still get that choice.

We get to wake up and check to see if the sun still rose.

To see that our loved ones still love us.

To find ways to connect to another lonely human.

To choose to take in the information, yet not become paranoid and helpless because of it.

So today, choose to go bring the morale to someone.

50 Cent did.

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