It’s a Tuesday night. You come from an arduous day in the ol’ coal mines; exhausted and frustrated. You peel your jacket off and put your briefcase in the corner. And right there; in that moment, there is a sense… an air of anticipation. For you know, that within 30-40 minutes, an opportunity will arise allowing you to be horizontal on your fluffy duvet, plate of nachos on your chest, cell phone at your side, watching the latest episode of The Walking Dead. Tuned in and tuned out.
But, alas, upon your briefcase release, you become aware that there are four differently colored balloons tied to the four highboy chairs that surround your kitchen island. And on the island itself is a vibrant bag stuffed with tissue paper and a box covered by silver wrapping adorned with a cadre of scissor-curled bows. And to the side of these items stands your wife and two children with gleeful smiles across all their faces. There will be no duvet. There will be no tasty chips covered in hot, drippy cheese sauce and picante salsa. There will be no innards being torn from the torsos of helpless human survivors by rabid zombies. There will be a reapplication of your coat and a re-entrance into your vehicle and a trip to The Olive Garden. The aforementioned exhaustion and frustration of your day now bleeds vigilantly into your evening. Any why this aberration of dynamism and gaudy, chromatic flashiness? Because it is your birthday.
And of course this ought be a day for rampant celebration; of course it should. By all means, this is important. After all, 364 days have passed since the last time you endured this overwrought, unnecessary hullabaloo. You should be celebrated and given a greater level of love than you get on all the other days, and receive things you’ve neither asked for nor need. Absolutely you should. Because you have ceremoniously accomplished the astounding feat of going an entire year without dropping dead.
I don’t get birthdays. I mean, I get them. In concept, I get them. But I don’t get them. Frankly, I don’t really get the whole idea of “special days” in general. I don’t get the idea that I should feel certain ways or do certain things simply by virtue of the date on the calendar. I don’t want to bring my wife flowers on Valentine’s Day. I want to bring my wife flowers on a Tuesday because I am thinking about her and love her. I don’t want to be especially nice to people on Christmas. I want to be especially nice to people on line at the grocery store when the new clerk has a void and a line full of annoyed, grumbly individuals are growing more impatient by the minute awaiting the arrival of the manager with the magical key. I don’t want a day off from work on Thanksgiving. I want a day off from work when I am feeling despondent and desperate and trapped in isolation, borderline vomitous about the idea of spending eight hours with a group of people in an office. I find special days intrusive and strewn with irritating expectation. And, to be clear, this is not precisely an opinion I have, so much as it is the manner in which I’m wired. So, when I say I don’t get it, I mean something inside of me really, truly doesn’t get it. It is lost on me. But no “special days” appear as silly and purposeless to me as birthdays.
You were born. That had nothing to do with you. You neither chose it, nor did you accomplish it. And you have stayed alive for x number of years since that time. That has little to nothing to do with you either. You have been blessed to have avoided contracting Leukemia, or being struck by lightning, or careening into a horrific car accident or having some kind of ominous brain aneurysm just go pop in your head one day dropping you like stone. I mean, yes, you can watch your diet and get regular check-ups and take vitamins and supplements and such, but still, your being alive is not really about you. So why celebrate it? Why force people to act happy and cheery and make difficult restaurant choices as a result of them having done nothing? Now there are two exceptions here. The first one is children. They are children. Let them revel in their birthdays with clowns and magicians and Chuck E. Cheese and scads of wrapped pieces of plastic crap that their parents will have to find a way to cram into their already stuffed to the gills toy drawers. It’s like Halloween. Kids ought to party hardy on Halloween. But if you older than twenty and still get jacked toward the end of October from the idea of putting a costume on, I would suggest that your priorities may be a smidgen out of order. The other exception is adults who, for some odd reason, love their birthdays, and wish for those who care about them to engage in celebratory actions. If it’s your cup of tea and you want to be honored for this accomplishment that you didn’t accomplish, knock yourself out. But even in this case, I must say, I find it really weird when adults throw themselves birthday parties. It rings as sort of borderline selfish or self-consumed. Mainly because I don’t want to come. I don’t want to come to your birthday party. But now I have this pithy invitation magnetized to my refrigerator, daily reminding me of this imposition of an obligation causing me to frantically wrack my brain trying to come up with an adequate excuse to help me avoid showing up at.
I’m aware that one could argue that the reason behind the celebration of birthdays is that your birth is a miracle and each year on that same date, we essentially give thanks that the miracle took place. But by that logic, we should continue to celebrate people’s birthdays once they have expired. After all, their being born into the world is no less a miracle simply because they aren’t around anymore. A miracle is a miracle. Just like biblical miracles (Christmas, Channukah, Easter) which are celebrated yearly for all time, so should too, then, birth days. But they aren’t. So basically, we only think it’s super cool that you were born for the amount of time that you are here. After that, the miracle is all but defunct and no longer worthy of celebration. So, in light of this, the whole miracle celebrating theory strikes me as bunk.
About a month ago, I got a call from a friend with the specific intent of relaying to me that they were hurt that I had not called them on their birthday the week before. I responded, “I don’t even know when your birthday is.” They answered, “Well don’t you think you should?” I said, “Well, I don’t know if I should. I just know that I don’t.” “Well that hurts my feelings.” I asked, “Um… why does that hurt your feelings? I mean, don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to justify your feelings. You’re having them and that is real and I totally hear that your feelings are hurt and that makes me sad. I’m just wondering why, in your mind, my not knowing when your birthday is, somehow equates with how you believe I feel about you.” “Because,” they replied, “When you care about someone, you know and acknowledge their birthday.” “Okay,” I answered back, “I cannot get on board with that being a universal code of conduct. There is no global truth connecting loving someone and remembering and acknowledging their birthday. What I can get on board with, is that the two are linked for you. I don’t need to understand it to honor it. What I have been trying to get across, is that if you are simply waiting for the day to come when it will occur to me that I need to know when your birthday is and then make a point to ask you for it and then remember every year to call you or send you a card or something, that day is never going to come. But not because I don’t care. Because that will just not naturally occur to me. Because this is something that I need to know about you to be able to conform to it and I’m happy to do that now that I know. I will put your birthday into my phone calendar with a cue to remind me every year and I will never miss your birthday again.” He accepted this, but still seemed a bit confused about why I didn’t simply just know to do this. I just don’t. It doesn’t feel like a choice. I just have a brain that is not capable of registering this kind of information as pertinent or critical data.
I have the same problem with thank you notes. Not just thank you notes. The pressure to write thank you notes. If you’re going to give me a present, give me a present. The definition of a present, is something given freely without any expectation of getting something in return. If your going to give me a present with the expectation of receiving a little card of thanksgiving, please just keep your present. Because I’m inevitably going to forget to send the note and you’re going to be disappointed or angry. We don’t need that. I assure you I have never received a present without saying thank you. I have manners. But I ain’t sendin’ you no card. And please don’t send me one. Seriously. I don’t like receiving them. They annoy me. You thanked me already. Now you are saddling me with another piece of junk mail in my mailbox which I now need to carry inside of my house and tear open and read your generic words and now I’m stuck with both a card and an envelope that I need to go throw into the recycling bag which is already too full and your card and envelope serve to put it over the top so that I now need to pull the recycling bag out of its can and walk outside all the way to the bottom of my long driveway to dump the bag into the dumpster and then come back inside and put a new recycling bag into the can and now I’m exhausted. So thanks, but no thanks.
And I’m no hypocrite. This cuts both ways. Please don’t know what my birthday. Please. Please don’t bother knowing it or acknowledging it in any way. Please don’t text me or call me or Facebook me or snail mail me or purchase anything for me. This is not because I dislike my birthday. It doesn’t bother me to have a birthday. I certainly don’t mind getting older (I can’t tell you how many people asked me how I felt about turning 40 to which I could only offer that it was one more than 39) I just care nothing about it. Text me or call me or Facebook me or snail mail me or buy me a gift any time you’d like. I’d be delighted to hear from you and/or grateful to receive something from you. Feel free to do those things with reckless abandon. And, quite frankly, feel free to do any of those things ON my birthday, just don’t do them BECAUSE it’s my birthday. Honestly, if you were to do any of those things on my birthday, the prime effect they would probably have is to remind me that it’s my birthday. Because I generally forget. You’d have to do it early though, otherwise my family is likely to beat you to it. For those of you with membership or experience in the recovery world, I have the same relationship with my sober anniversary. Don’t care; usually forget about it. The fact that I’m sober is a miracle EVERY day. I’m always grateful for that. But when my anniversary rolls around, people are prone to want to congratulate me. Of course, I know this is well-intentioned. But don’t congratulate me for something that I had nothing to do with. God got me sober. Feel free to give as much thanks as you’d like to God on my sober anniversary. Personally, I don’t need the call, the card or the coin.
Finally, it is my true hope that you do not read these words as the musings of a grumpy misanthrope. I love giving of myself to others. I love helping people. I love making connections and being open and transparent and authentic with others. I love getting gifts for people. I love getting gifts from people. I’m a people person. I’m just not a birthday person.