Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Birthday Blues... and Cheers

Because I've been busy revising a paper for publication, as I'm sure many of you in my small readership have already heard and are probably goddamn tired of me mentioning, I have not made a new post in exactly one month. Even though I have more work to do on the paper now that I finally have my first final draft back from my editor with just a few final corrections to be made, I nonetheless decided I must release a few thoughts on a subject that is all to poignant for me right now: my birthday.

My birthday is May 23rd (a birthday I share with Ken Jennings, Phil Selway, and Mitch Albom, among others), currently about 26 hours away from the time I am writing this post. Today, May 21st, actually happens to be the birthday of my older brother, Witte. Wit, here's a shout out to you, if you ever read this: Happy Birthday! Born three years apart almost to the day... my parents must have loved late August, if you catch my drift. Anyway, my birthday being May 23rd, and me currently turning the age of 23 this year-of-our-lord 2009, makes it my Golden Birthday. I'm trying to decide whether to let that affect how I think it should be. Should my expectations be higher simply because it's my 'Golden Birthday?' Or should I take it for really just the simple happenstance value that it has?

Birthdays are truly a hyped occurrence in our culture; great time is spent in their anticipation, an entire year practically, and then when the day comes, the meaning of the day's reification is tricky. They remind me of practically any holiday in our American culture. We anticipate Christmas, Easter, New Year's (my favorite), our birthdays, and when their time arrives, and it is truly Christmas Day, Easter morning, 12:01am on New Year's, or our birthday, what is the feeling that comes over us? Is it something more than what we can normally feel; an intensely significant moment whose purpose we can truly grasp? Are our emotions expected to be purely joyous? I sound like Ricky Roma in his opening monologue in Glengarry Glen Ross. He asked, "what is the moment?" Is it something we'll always remember, something we can always recall, touch, and taste in our minds?

Humans have a way of projecting the meaning of their lives onto material things and the very processes of our lives. A birthday is a day to celebrate the life of an individual and recognize the passing of another year in his life, to recognize his accomplishments and the impact he has made on others. When I awake on May 23rd in two days, I don't think I will feel a rush of these thoughts come to my head. I don't think I will truly feel the moment then, aside from just some light and happy realization that today is the day I had been waiting for. Maybe I dwell on that fact that it is my Golden Birthday, and should perhaps expect it to be even better than a normal birthday. After that, I will just know that it is my birthday, without a proper grasp on the implications of this, and that I have to be at work by 9:30am that day. Perhaps the real moment will come when I gather with my friends, to celebrate, well, myself. Another time with familiar faces to enjoy life, and celebrate all I may have done (and I truly feel I've done a lot in my short life, as young as I am). The evening will be fun and joyful, an evening with friends that I adore so much, but really, just like any other evening with friends. And then it will be over, the 24 hours that actually constitute my birthday will pass so quickly, and it will not be my birthday anymore. My moment, the one I have been yearning for and anticipating will have passed, so fleetingly.

Perhaps it is simply naive to go on inferring that birthdays inherently bring some form of disappointment, or let down, or loss. Perhaps it is simply naive to expect some grand moment, epiphany, recognition of one's self importance and mental celebration to actually occur upon my birthday. But that's what I feel my anticipation is telling me. No doubt others may feel differently, but I think we can all agree on the importance of the anticipation, its existence, the hope and joy it may give us (it certainly gives me those things). I think I may prefer it to the actual moment, because maybe there is no real moment the way we anticipate, but nonetheless, we still wait, and hope, and feel the joy of the coming day of earned celebration. Yahoo.

That's why I sit and write during one of the most joyous times of my year. Today is my brother's birthday, which is one thing I can rejoice in, and two days before mine. I am still 22, soon to be 23, god willing, and I anxiously await, feel, taste, a growing sensation. My day of celebration will soon pass, a regular 24 hour day, short and gone by quickly with a melancholy haste. My expectation will no doubt to one degree be let down, that something truly unique was waiting for me on the 23rd of May, and when it arrived, I didn't really feel any different. But even though I realize this, I anticipate with joy just the same. It is a worthwhile trade, to feel that special feeling in anticipation, and try to appreciate it while it is with me, and make it last, only to lose it to something that may not be as good.

Maybe that's why birthdays often bring us sadness, though I think this is usually attributed to the fact that they mark our life clock ticking closer to the time of our demise. Like many people, I fear death to some extent, but I think I am more in tune with my mortality than most. So I don't fear birthdays in this regard, but would if I always looked back and found that I wasn't at least trying to live life to the fullest, with no regrets. Luckily, it is this fear that perpetually drives to "live deeply and suck out all the morrow of life." Carpe diem. Amen.

When my (Golden) birthday comes on Saturday, I will awake, realize it is just a day and feel a touch grounded (I use this word carefully, in place of "sad"), and remind myself that it is just liken any other day, but do my best to enjoy it with my loved ones, to celebrate what I have accomplished, and most of all I think, be thankful that I have been so fortunate, had such a good life, and made it this far. I believe this is all I can hope for. This, and the material gifts I may or may not receive, another aspect of birthdays that can certainly be a let down, so enjoy be sure to try to enjoy their anticipation, if you don't get what you wanted.

This is why I have some of the birthday blues, but ultimately, more of the birthday cheers. I look forward to my special day with a light heart and a smile on my lips. I'm having a party with German food. What could be better? And if there's one fact about myself that I truly can rejoice in the whole day long on my birthday, its that god I love being the center of attention.

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