My birthday is arriving rapidly and until yesterday I didn’t see the point in “celebrating” it this time round. Most years my birthday passes by relatively unnoticed, save the Facebook messages people send (out of social obligation lest someone not wish them a happy day come their own birthday). The one exception being my 25th where, out of sheer curiosity I had invited people from all over the world to join me in a costume mandatory Disney Super Spectacular. Given previous attempts at smaller and cheaper birthdays in previous states around the country, I was sure no one would attend and had confidently planned to spend my birthday with just my housemates, or at the very least, comfortably alone with a bottle of red in a bouncy house I had put on hold in the event of a non-event.
Much to my surprise I was surrounded by 40 or so people from all over the world with a few more attending by video link throughout the evening. For the first time in near a decade I truly understood and felt that the people around me, the people I had very selectively chosen to invest my time in, had paid dividends in the form of love. In a world of fast paced living and the general understanding of apathy and busyness between friends, they showed up to celebrate my being alive. They had shown up despite cost, distance, inconvenience and anxieties. It was a truly touching experience.
While I don’t think I ever formally thanked everyone for attending, I did attempt a slurred speech that ended rather quickly due to me choking up at the realization that I’m not as alone as my brain likes to think I am. But I digress.
Growing up in my household was a bizarre experience. Major events to most families (birthdays, Christmas etc) were very close to non events for my family after the age of 7. Today we are lucky if we even remember our own birthdays, they hold such little significance. Perhaps it was because my family has always chosen to show love by gift giving as part of whim and whimsy:”I saw this and thought of you, so here is a gift” with maybe one big gift on the day of the actual celebration should we remember it. Or perhaps because we have always been a creative family, something homemade or being gifted an experience was more important. Or, very possibly, the fact that as I’ve gotten older, the minimalist in me has awakened and the nihlistic philosophy has taken over my life; but attending other people birthdays and events was always (and to this day still is) a culturally different and eye opening experience.
Many of the birthdays I’ve attended in my youth were centered wholly around the birthday person getting everything they wanted how they want it. Regardless of the persons age (I remember the event of a 32 year old particularly well). Presents would be piled high as the person who was being celebrated would become bratty and lord over those who would be paying for the extravagant event. For one day, a person would become significantly entitled and invincible. Before I knew what it was called, a small voice would laugh and ask “What’s the point? This is all going to be out dated, out moded, and possibly worthless in less than a year.” And I would roll my eyes, fix a smile on my face, and try to enjoy the moment despite the people around me vapidly trying to live forever. I did not enjoy socializing at these events. I avoid them now at all costs.
These days the people I associate with are significantly more grown up and realistic about the economy we live in and are more frugal and smart with their expectations. Even the cheerfully optimistic friends who think they can build a metaphorical dynasty or something that will last forever are aware that a birthday is about them but being a brat about it is pointless and no fun for literally anyone.
As we’ve grown older, priorities shift. People start dating seriously. They start having families, buying houses, or launch headfirst in to serious careers that take up a lot of their time. Birthdays have become somewhat quiet affairs at home that allow a few select people to play some games, have a laugh, maybe a drink or two, then head home for an early night to be alive and well the next day. With the few exceptions of the singletons who believe they’ll live forever and try to create memories that will transcend time and space, even if they can’t remember anything after the 8th shot of tequila.
For most of the population getting older is no longer something to celebrate, but to mourn and fear. A vast majority of people will choose not to disclose their age, or will blatantly lie to themselves and those around them as if not verbally disclosing their biolgocial years will somehow slow time and extend their stay on this ridiculous rock floating through space. Despite the fact we live significantly longer, healthier lives than our ancestors ever could have dreamed of, it is still not enough. The birthdays approach and the dread sets in.
I decided on a whim yesterday afternoon that while life is short, and inevitably meaningless, I wanted to celebrate the fact I was still alive and kicking (despite all odds) and these fantastic and interesting people I surround myself with are alive at the same time and in the same space. I wanted an excuse to get as many people I care about under one section of sky, in one particular park on a lovely day and just be in their presence. And what a fabulous excuse; Another birthday.