Today is my 31st birthday. I’ve been watching a Netflix miniseries (adapted from Margaret Atwood’s novel) called “Alias Grace” recently, and the leading character celebrates her birthday in one of the episodes. She speaks about it this way: “There is something depressing to the spirits about a birthday, especially when alone.” When I heard this line, I retorted aloud, “Not to me!”
But it’s the morning after watching the episode and that line is still bumping around my head. In fact, I spoke too soon when I retorted. I love birthdays, and mine is no exception. I love finding a good excuse to eat a little more, relax a little more, and treat myself; another year of life seems like a pretty great one.
But the truth is, I have never once had a birthday alone. I have been blessed to the point that every year, whether at home or away at school or working in a city far up the Eastern seaboard, I have shared my birthday celebration with someone that cares for me. That is a huge gamechanger when it comes to the way a birthday feels.
Because Grace is correct: there is something depressing to the spirits about a birthday. Do you agree? It may not be the overwhelming emotion of the day, but somewhere underneath the surface is a small current of self-reflection that can often turn a little somber. Another year older reminds us of so much: are we any wiser? Are we beginning to feel our age in our bodies, our health? What do we have to show for another year of life? And how much closer are we to our inevitable death?
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Birthdays tend to become existentially disquieting rather quickly. Perhaps that is why it is a cultural ritual to plan for merriment on one’s birthday. It’s a happy distraction from the reality that we’re older, we’re closer to death, and we will never perfect this earthly journey despite our efforts.
So I’m grateful that I have my husband and kids with me today, to celebrate my life and remind me of all that there is to be thankful for as I add another year. I’m also more aware of the fact that many among us are alone — in our hearts, if not in our daily lives. And when birthdays and holidays come to bring cheer to those who have love around them, the lonely people cry even more bitterly.
If you would oblige my request for a birthday gift, please open your eyes and hearts to those who are alone today. As the lyrics of “This Christmas” command us, “Shake a hand, shake a hand.” Or if you’re afraid to touch someone, consider offering them a smile or a kind word. Consider participating in a charitable holiday effort in the city this season. As I celebrate another blessed year of life today, I would be encouraged to know that readers of this column are gifting me with an effort to reach the lonely in their midst. Thank you!