Rate your satisfaction with authentic, honest, and genuine deeds vs. inauthentic and less than honest actions.
It’s my birthday today. I didn’t get any presents, I didn’t eat any cake, and almost no-one noticed. Good.
It’s been many years since I liked my birthday. I think I was ten when I first said I didn’t want to have a birthday party, and I have managed to avoid it almost every year since. I can’t remember what I did when I was 20; I got married the day after I turned 30, so the birthday kind of got lost in all the preparations. I didn’t mind at all.
I don’t like cakes. I’d much rather have an apple than an apple pie, much rather have a glass of milk than a marzipan cake, much rather a carrot than a sponge cake. I don’t like stuffing myself with sugar and fat just to be polite. There have been incidents because of this (it took some time before my in-laws realised that I wasn’t trying to be impolite by refusing to eat as much cake as they did), and I have tried to change, but I just can’t. I just don’t like cakes.
I don’t like presents that much, especially if they’re bought just to give me something. I have all I need, and if new needs arise, I can buy things myself. I don’t need, I don’t want more stuff — and if I need more stuff, I like that stuff to be chosen by me. But don’t I feel warm and happy when someone has spent time and money for my sake? Isn’t it great when I get the book I always wanted?
Only sometimes. I once got climbing gear by my climbing partner, and that was nice, it was a gesture: he wanted me to climb more. Usually, though, the gifts I have gotten have not been used more than a couple of times. Even the presents I buy for myself have a tendency to gather dust after a short period of time; it would be strange if others were better at finding things for me than I am.
Experiences are good, though. My wife once gave me ticket for a Tom Waits-concert in Edinburgh, and some days off family duties so that I could roam the Scottish highlands. That was a great gift.
But why should one wait until birthdays to give those kinds of gifts? Why should the fact that the earth has spun exactly one circle around the sun since my last birthday be so important that I should get presents? It’s not important at all, it’s just a way of counting one’s time here, to have a number as an answer to the question about your age. I went from 36 to 37 today. I have to remember a different number than yesterday. That’s all. There is no reason not to give gifts, give experiences to others on any other day of the year. A year is a long time, after all.
I don’t like all the preparations. One must bake cakes, buy silly hats, wrap presents, prepare a big dinner, clean the house, take stilted photos (“now you stand there and smile, and don’t move, we need some pictures we can show to everyone”), alert friends and family on social media, iron your best shirt… If I could choose my ideal birthday, it would be without all these kinds of preparations. I’d cook pasta, we’d all wear our normal clothes, I wouldn’t even mind if someone had dirty ears. I would want to have a good time — and the best times of my life have been when there has been little preparation, no big meals, no quarrels about who does what and why hasn’t this been done yet.
Like it was today. We did have a cake, but it wasn’t me for me, it was for my second son: he was born on the same date as me. We had wrapped some gifts, but only for him — and everyone who called us wanted to congratulate him, not me.
It’s not your birthday, he told me, it’s only mine.
It’s different when you turn four, I suppose. Turning four is a major event in your life, at least at the time, and you relish all the attention and all the fuss. And all the presents, of course. I didn’t bake a cake for him, but I did buy his new bike. I didn’t wrap the presents, but I did build some of them for him afterwards. He had a great day, and I was happy he did. And happy I could make his day even better.
(The racing track he got isn’t working properly, though. I’ll probably be able to fix it tomorrow, but the mere existence of one more thing I have to fix and look after, makes me slightly… annoyed, if that’s the word.)
As an adult, though, I don’t like being celebrated and getting lots of attention just because I grow older. I did when I was four; now, it just feels inauthentic and less than honest, as if it’s done just because “that’s the way it is”, or perhaps to somehow relive one’s childhood birthdays. I don’t deserve attention because of my age. I don’t deserve people making a party for me, or spending time in shops to find something I probably won’t need after all. I wouldn’t feel good if my friends and relatives spent hours with me not in order to do anything or create something together, but just because I changed from one number to another.
If I had done something worth celebrating, it would have been another story. If I got a doctorate, for instance, or finally got married, or got an award of some sort. But just for being alive? Nah.
When you turn four, birthdays are a big deal. As you grow up, though, they’re mainly a nuisance.
Yes, I said to my son. It’s only your birthday. I want it to be.
After he had fallen asleep I checked my Facebook account. Friends, close and not so close, had sent me messages: happy birthday, congratulations, hope you have a nice day, see you soon. I have never cared about those Facebook birthday greetings before. But today, I read them and re-read them, even though no-one had anything else to say than anyone else, and they made me happy. Not because my getting older was an occasion. Not because my birthday was of importance. But because they had taken a few seconds of their time to think about me, and then write to me to show that they did.
I don’t care about birthdays. I don’t want my birthday to be anything else than a normal day. On the other hand, if that is what it takes to get that kind of messages…
No. The moral is not to look forward to your birthday. The moral is to send messages to people on random days, just to let them know you have been thinking about them. That would be more honest than to send messages on the one day you are socially obliged to, don’t you think?
Happy ordinary day, my friend. Hope your day is filled with lots of love and laughter.