One of the entitlements of age is not really worrying about tags like ‘juvenile’ applying to you. Anyone who doesn’t think you act your age is easy to ignore, because your body’s ever-expanding list of aches and pains tells you exactly how old you are every morning. With that in mind, I don’t really need to care about sounding emo or angsty when I say that my birthday tends to depress it.
I don’t think it has anything to do with the event itself. I mean, it’s not like something awful happened one year and I have to deal with the constant trauma of being reminded of it. I mean, I don’t go in for parties in a big way (or in any way, really) so the lack of one can’t be it either.
I think it really has to do with the expectation that one’s birthday should be happy. That you should feel special about the day, about yourself on that day. I know we do a lot to induce that feeling — rituals like gifts, well-wishes, gatherings and so on. But there really isn’t anything special about the day itself (something you’d think it would have taken me less than 31 years to figure out), and confronting that banality is always a little disappointing.
“Happy birthday”, people say. Well, what if it isn’t? Does that make it a lesser birthday? A wasted year? What? I mean, I can’t think of anyone who’s perennially happy, or even regularly or frequently happy. Happiness is elusive, and yet there’s something about the birthday that’s supposed to conjure it. That sort of hoodoo has never really worked on me.
Maybe the other thing has to do with stock-taking. It’s like New Year’s, only more personal. It’s like having a work review with your boss, except your boss in this case is yourself, presumably your own harshest critic. Maybe that’s why we try to surround ourselves with people on birthdays — to drown out our own voices. We let people phrase how happy we are as a statement or an expectation because left to our own devices, we phrase it as a question, an act of self-interrogation that most of us would rather not do. I know I wouldn’t. Another year down, another long list of wasted opportunities to have something to be proud of.
Well. A happy birthday. I’m not sure I can manage that. But I suppose what I can manage is a thankful one, because remembering absent friends and loved ones is never fun, but should always make us feel grateful. Taking stock reminds us not only of what we’ve missed but what we have, or had, or might still have. And while I don’t have a lot to be happy about, I think I have a very great deal to be grateful for.
So thank you, everyone.