I love this day. Always have. Always will (and don’t even try to tell me I will feel differently when I’m older).
It’s my birthday.
I am going to eat brownies and milk for breakfast. I am going to take the day off work (yes, I work on Saturdays), ignore all my unanswered emails, and celebrate my existence in the world.
How often do we truly, sincerely celebrate ourselves? And why don’t we do it more often?
I might take a yoga class and go out for a special meal. I definitely will not do laundry… or dishes.
For better or worse, I belong to a culture (United Statesian) that glorifies individuality. This leads to all kinds of idiosyncrasies— some abysmal, like our (lack of a) welfare system, and others (I think) excellent, like our custom of celebrating birthdays.
I don’t mean the gift-giving, consumerist, “what do you want for your birthday?” custom. Because that is not worth talking about.
I mean the fundamental principle of the birthday tradition: our lives are worth celebrating.
Growing up, my brother and I always got to choose what we wanted to eat for our birthday dinners (at age five, my choice was a Malaysian restaurant in Boston; by age 13 it was sushi). Then, it was a reason to look forward to my birthday. Now, I see it as something more meaningful.
In their way, our parents were telling us that our birthdays, the days on which we entered the world, were special. They were special completely and uniquely because of our small, precocious selves. These days were worthy of acknowledgement, year after year.
There are many, many ways to acknowledge this day for yourself, or for others. In honor of my 23rd birthday, I have decided to compile a list of reasons why I love my birthday, and why I will still love it 23 years from now:
- For this one day, I only do things that I want to do without feeling the least bit selfish or guilty about it.
- Because I only do things that I want to do, I will have to get in touch with my needs and desires well enough to know what those things are.
- When I tell people it’s my birthday, their smiles light up as if they, too, are happy that I am alive.
- My parents send me Vermont Brownie Company brownies in the mail (or something equally chocolate), and I eat at least one for breakfast.
- I indulge my sweet tooth. On most days, I am a firm believer in “everything in moderation” and all that jazz. Not today.
- I have a great excuse to throw a party. It could be a costume party, and friends will dress up to humor me. It could be a picnic, and loved ones will gather— not just to celebrate me, but to celebrate the beautiful web of friendships and connections between all of us.
- For the entire month of my birthday (October), I will be thinking about how extraordinarily lucky it is to be alive.
- I might wear a tiara. It will seem slightly less ridiculous than it would on most other days.
- I am honest. More honest than usual. My excuse? It’s my birthday; I’ll say what I want!
- I refuse to let anything bother me. After all, it’s my birthday, and I intend to enjoy it no matter what.
- I can feel totally justified in carrying around a bunch of balloons.
- I dedicate this day to joy in life. Really, this is what I try to do every day, but today I will be entirely successful.
- I feel grateful for the gift of another year—be it difficult or easy, banal or extraordinary, painful or healing, it is a gift.
Now, I believe everyone should love their birthday.
Why? Because it is your day, and, should you choose, you can set it aside each year solely for the celebration, appreciation and acknowledgement of the joy that is your presence in the world. It is a day for gathering and community as well. What better reason for friends and loved ones to come together? Finally, it is an annual opportunity to reaffirm the singularity of your life and existence.
You don’t have to eat brownies and milk for breakfast. You don’t have to take the day off work or throw any kind of party. But please, try to see the beauty of a day that is special just because it commemorates the start of your life. Consider wearing a tiara, or insisting that your friends gather in one place. Take a moment to acknowledge the miracle of your existence.
And heck, maybe even get some balloons. After all, it’s your birthday. You can have balloons if you want to.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Enal Magirite at Pixoto