I turned 31 on Friday. I celebrated by tending to my recuperating wife.
This is neither self-pity, nor is it pining for happy birthday comments. In fact, I have a very conflicted relationship with my birthday. On one hand, who doesn’t like well-wishing and having friends drop lines? On the other, my birthday always seems to bring with it calamity or something that overshadows it. I have a cousin with the same birthday (hope yours was great, Joel!), at least once I was sick, another saw my home broken into. Another year, at the gulag, saw a surprise party thrown for me by a bunch of people who didn’t even know who I was. (Most of them realized they didn’t know me and promptly left.) The year I was at Florida State, I got my glasses crushed as a result of their tradition of throwing the newly-older in Westcott Fountain. (I wasn’t thrown in, but rather stepped in and baptized myself, which insulted everyone there. Never mind that I couldn’t see and couldn’t afford new ones.) Most years, I ended up working crappy shifts. This year, wife–finally–had her gall bladder out.
There were other, better birthdays: the surprise party thrown by my campus ministry friends in Wisconsin, the year we drove to Madison to get Old C with a handful of friends, the years when my two oldest nephews would ‘call’ and leave positively adorable–yet barely intelligible–voicemail. More often than not, I would make a big deal of my birthday and then, when it finally arrived, I’d respond with a shrug. It’s really not that big of a deal. Enough air has been let out on that day in the past where inflating it just doesn’t make a lot of sense anymore.
And yet, in my perhaps-permanent sabbatical from facebook, I feel detached. It’s just a day, but in a culture when a birthday is supposed to be my day, how is someone like me not confused by it? It’s really not a big deal to have taken a few days off work to take care of my wife, but the timing of said spousal convalescence dictates that if no one else is sorry, I’m supposed to be sorry for myself.
Of course, being human, that urge is there. And yet, I’m reminded that to truly live life is not to live it for myself. No, being there to tend to wife isn’t a gratuitous exercise in self-righteousness, either. Friday was just a day, a day when I needed to be there to take care of my family. It also so happened to be on the day when I add a numeral to the age column. During the season in which I find myself absent from social networking. In a city where I only know a handful of people (and don’t particularly care to know many more.) Wow, I realize that I’m remarkably alone.
How does something so petty matter and yet not matter at the same time?
I don’t care that my birthday came and went with most minimal fanfare–nary a kazoo was lifted and blown in my honor, and I’m perfectly okay with that–and I care more about the fact that I feel like I should care and wrestle with whether or not I actually should. I’m not crazy, just intellectual. (I hear you thinking.)
I don’t need the celebrations, the fb messages, the cards, cake, gifts or irritating songs sung by servers. They’re all nice, save the latter, but what matters most is that my family is taken care of, that my dog has food and water and that everyone else out there I care about is doing their best to make their respective worlds better places.
And that, regardless of what day it is, other people matter more than I do. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.