Most people I know have very different ideas about birthdays than I do. Apparently, birthdays are occasions to be ignored, forgotten, unmentioned. You should hate your own birthday, refuse any question of celebrating it, and loath to accept any gifts. If someone insists on talking about it, offering you a gift, a card, or even a hug you may accept out of politeness but you must insist they shouldn’t have.
You must at the very least refrain from mentioning or otherwise informing or reminding anyone it is your birthday. You should not plan your own birthday celebration but wait for others to prove how much they care about you by making the plans for you. You should not buy yourself a gift. That only proves you are selfish, self-centered, and, obviously, friendless. Birthday celebration should not exceed one day and night of gift-giving and glee. Anything more than that is an annoyance and a burden.
Of course, I do not follow or agree with any of this. I verbally and quite publically count down to my birthday. I make tons of plans for dinners, outings, visits, and events. I buy myself things and whole-heartedly accept any gifts others are willing to offer.
I treat every birthday as a holiday because to me that is exactly what it is and I invite anyone who wishes to come along to celebrate with me. I ask for no gifts or cash contributions, I only ask that you witness my life. Witness my growth and passing. Witness me moving from one age to another. That, after all, is the greatest gift any of us can ask for.
I make a whole month out of this day and I make sure not just that I enjoy it but all those who supported me in my journey around the sun and through the year feel celebrated too. I make sure that they know that I know that without them I certainly wouldn’t be here.
Each one of us is given one day to call our own. One day when we can treat ourselves and a day when those who care about us are welcome to treat us too. The reasons aren’t all to do with materialism or unbridled desire to be adored and adorned. It’s simply a chance to feel good about being alive for a change.
How many of you never wonder at the immense odds against you not just to have been born at all but to have lived through every year, every day up to now? Can you guess how many people weren’t and didn’t? Do you know not only the luck but the strength it takes to live and keep on living?
If you had not been conceived when you were and subsequently born on the very day down to the second that you were, this life you have might be different or might not be at all. This world, for you, might not exist and no matter how bad things get I have to believe that any life is better than no life. I have to believe each of us would really truly rather be here than not, would rather see another birthday than not. I believe it because I can see it.
I can see that though we may whine and moan and insist to the contrary that everything we do from the moment we wake up in the morning until we lay down to sleep, every breath, every lie told and love spoken, everything action and interest we take, everything we care about, dream about, own, give away, steal, everything we hate and everything we hope for, it is all nothing but proof that we are fighting to live.
And this is what I celebrate, and this is what I believe we all should celebrate, that fight. Every birthday is a win and every year we are given just one day not to fight but instead to congratulate ourselves, to take stock of the spoils, and to ready ourselves to fight once again. It’s a wondrous gift, this life, one denied to many others, and though it may not feel like it, we are wondrous creatures who do the work of living it. We deserve this day. We deserve this celebration and respite.
I’ve done my best to convince nearly everyone I know how much of a waste an unmarked birthday is. The experiences and the presents aside, the chance to face not only the void we were born out of and the void we are fated to disappear back into but this beautiful, bright, terrible, and mysterious blink of time in between. You are here, now, and only for once. You must mark it!
Yes, birthdays are a yearly reminder that time is marching on and we are marching along with it straight to our deaths. Yes, birthdays are a reminder that we are aging, that we will never be as strong, agile, or attractive as we once were. Birthdays remind us that we are growing obsolete and invisible, and that one day we won’t even exist at all.
Birthdays can be a reminder of painful pasts too, I know. They can bring back memories of loneliness and feelings of insignificance. They can bring back regret, anger, and pain, I know, but, in some ways, birthdays are a celebration of that too. After all, suffering is as much a part of this life as love and happiness are too.
A birthday is a much-needed reminder of all that we have been through and the chance, the maybe, the hope that we will get to experience more. It an acknowledgement of the awful truth, the threat, that we just as well might not. A bit of birthday cake, a couple of gifts to unwrap, and a few friends to laugh with over a few drinks make the truth go down a little easier, that’s all and if you don’t have those friends, those laughs, those gifts or drinks that’s okay too. None of that is the point.
All you really need for a real birthday celebration, the thing you should have no matter how surrounded by love you are or not, is love for yourself and the courage to face your life as it was, as it will be, and that it will no longer be one day.
So, today, on my birthday, I wish you all a happy birthday too, whether it’s already passed or yet to come. I wish you a happy life, and all the happiness and success you can find in your fight for all that is good and, inevitably, a little of what is bad in this beautiful, bright, terrible, and mysterious thing we call life.
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