15 September 2011

What's Up with Being Happy on Happy Birthday?

Being Happy on B'day (the repost)

So here it is again: the ubiquitous birthday.  Same day every year.  Why are we not tired of it already?  It returns each year like a plague, with swarms of expectations threatening to overwhelm us.  Nevertheless, it seems quite reasonable that each of us deserves a special personal day--no matter how naughty we may have been.  One day of the year.  That's all.  24 hours, give or take.  That's harmless enough, isn't it?  Everyone should get a day off from work, school, hassle, red lights, dirty laundry, taxation, crying babies, etc.

My history, however, proves that my birthday is usually the worst day of the year for me.  I've analyzed the reasons for this phenomena.  It probably has to do with the higher expectations I have for the day.  Or the timing of the day among the starting of the school year or the football/autumn season.  Things seem to happen at this time of the year.  One year there was a flood that drew everyone's attention away from my day.  Then there was the terrorist attack on September 11th.  I'm not claiming that those events occurred exclusively to thwart celebration of my continued aging.  Just coincidences.  My birthday was a coincidence: my mother often tells the story of how I was "due" eleven days earlier.  If only I had been born on time!  Perhaps the world would be different now.

So, given the randomness of a birthday and its almost obligatory acknowledgement, what can we do to properly deal with the many expectations and the certain failure we have to meet them?  Some would go to extremes to indulge themselves.  It's only fair.  Others would gather family and friends and have a round of cake and ice cream.  One day won't hurt.  Some will lie about the advancing years, hide their true age as though it were some fatal disease.  My father still insists with every passing birthday that he is "turning 39"--again; which makes me, what? six? year after year.

No, what I want is quite simple:

Just let everything go my way, just for one day.  I don't care about a party; I'm an adult now.  I don't care about gifts; I can buy what I want now.  I don't need celebration; It would either be trite or downright embarrassing.  I'd rather pass the day alone, locked in my home, safely away from the world.  Inside my fortress of solitude, of course, I'd indulge myself in various ways.  Sleep late.  Watch a favorite movie.  Eat my favorite foods.  Play video games.  Read a book I've been waiting to get to.  Do something absolutely unimportant and unproductive.

And so, for the mother who suffered through labor, for the teachers and classmates who had to deal with me from nursery school through college, for the relatives who alternately tolerated, or were horrified or amused by my life events, for the strangers who happily avoided me, for the colleagues from university and work and extracurricular activities who with some disdain endured the annual rituals of self-abandonment on this day, for all of the people I have encountered, for better or worse, let me say a humble thanks for not getting in my way on the one day of the year when I really do wish, with the maximum amount of sincerity and straight from the gut, to say to the world: "Leave me the hell alone! ...at least for 24 hours."

Thanks, and see you all next year.


  1. But Stephen - we wish that WE were having a happy birthday and therefore, generous people that we are, we wish to share that with you! So I wish for your birthday that you have (or had) as happy a day as you want(ed), in your own way!

  2. Thanks for your unwish, Connie. Today began with a car rushing at me, going the wrong direction on the highway. I swerved. The day improved slightly from that point.