Some people hate birthdays. They don’t want to hear about them. They refuse to tell you their age, or even discuss such matters. What’s that about? Other people are different about such things. I am one of those.
When we were kids, birthdays were all about celebrations. There was the cake, the gaudier the better. And the presents! Didn’t we look forward to all that? There was all the fuss about getting friends to attend. And even hard feelings if someone you thought was a friend didn’t attend. Parents got into it and it could get all political. The “keeping up with the Joneses” adage raised its ugly head and your party had to be as spectacular as those of your friends. I remember once we had a small pony to ride at a birthday. Some kids had a clown come to entertain the kids at their party. When we were teens, they were just an excuse for a dance, with all the to-ing and fro-ing between girls and boys. And getting money from the relatives so we could add to the bank account for college was a very serious business.
In our parenting years, it was more about the kids. Birthdays, if they were marked at all, were something quiet between parental partners. At least, that’s the way it was for me. There had to be a special something between the partners for fuss to be made on birthday occasions. Many years of our lives went by with no conscious notice taken to the passage of time. All of a sudden we were at 20-year anniversaries. Pity! There is a lot to be said for marking occasions with some ceremony. There were a lot of occasions we missed that should have been celebrated. Too bad about that as I look back. Maybe things were better for you.
I find things are so much different for me these days. I try to linger consciously on the special events, the birthdays and other milestones as well. Like when we do yoga, we really concentrate on feeling the now, our presence in the instant. Birthdays are great moments for that. I track the dates and give advance notice to those who may have the faintest of interest, sending out blindcopied email messages to all and sundry alerting them to the occasion, so they can jump on the computer, the telephone, or any other communication vehicle. They can pretend that they have known about the matter all along, so the object of the interest will feel really appreciated. It helps draw all of us closer together, reinvigorating our ties.
If we can be present for a birthday, that takes the cake. Thinking of my own experience as the one being fêted, don’t we all feel good when somebody makes a fuss over us, doing something that we wouldn’t think of doing for ourselves? After all, we usually think of others. We would feel too self-absorbed, even conceited, to make a fuss about ourselves. It’s so much nicer when somebody else goes to the trouble of doing it. Doesn’t that make us feel great! It does me.
And, know a secret? I’m no longer shy about that stuff. I am totally obnoxious. I had a birthday when I was 75 and invited everybody I could think of, especially those I really wanted to see. And I made them travel, hundreds, even thousands, of miles to attend. Of course, I insisted I wanted no other present than their presence. (And I graciously accepted gifts from those who ignored my request.) All the cards and letters I received were great. And one of my daughters assembled a book of my poems, with pictures and comments, that is among my treasures today.
I held my 75th in my old hometown, thousands of miles from where I lived. I went to a place where they had a chocolate fountain for the kids. It was wonderful to see all those chocolatey faces. And my son-in-law stepped in and picked up the tab. Wow! What a gift! Yes, I remember, and am grateful. I would have been very happy to pick up the bill just the same, but it makes one feel so appreciated. It was an orgy of self-satisfaction. Aren’t I a brat! I know that. My Bride reminds me I am all the time.
I did the same thing for my 80th in Dublin, where my Bride and I were living at the time. I knew then that we would be leaving to come back to Canada, so it was a great occasion to invite a few thousand of my favourite people to say goodbye. A couple of my kids even came across the big water to be there. It was another indulgence to my ego and I enjoyed it thoroughly. We only live once, right? We have to celebrate survival. We may not be around too much longer to do it.
So, I believe in indulging in all the things now that I never gave a thought to during the years I was slugging it out, making my way through life. Many of us are too busy during those years putting one foot in front of the other. When younger, we did things the quickest way, the most economical way. We shrugged off the sentimentality we might have felt, that might weaken our resolve to forge ahead. In doing so, we surrendered a lot of what might have been very good times, but we remember the few times we weakened, now some of the best of our memories.
These days, I make a great fuss about every birthday – even when it’s not mine!
Max Roytenberg is a Vancouver-based poet, writer and blogger. His book Hero in My Own Eyes: Tripping a Life Fantastic is available from Amazon and other online booksellers.