Friday, November 11, 2011

Birthdays and sneezes

Birthdays were a big deal in my family. I understand that not everyone makes such a production about them, but that's where I'm coming from. My sisters and I had our birthdays spread out over the course of four months and those months were sacred to us, they were ours. I still feel a small pang of ownership when November rolls around. I wish I didn't, but there it is. November is my month. Eleven is my number. On our birthdays we got to choose the meal, the dessert (I always chose a chocolate coconut cake) and ate everything off of a red plate that read "You are special today." That was our birthday plate.

I no longer find birthdays terribly compelling. They are fantastic for children, but after a certain age, I wonder what value they have. For my own part, I have a feeling of entitlement that I am very uncomfortable with. I have a relatively short fuse as it is and any complications on my birthday are compounded because I imagine that the universe somehow owes me a good day and feel betrayed when I get stuck in traffic or lose a button. I have learned the lesson of the Red Plate, I suppose, and imagine that I truly am special on my birthday.

When I sneeze I expect someone to acknowledge it with a simple "bless you" and am offended when my sneeze goes ignored. It's absurd and I recognize that. I am similarly offended if no one mentions my birthday, yet few people do because, perversely, I make it a point not to tell anyone. I don't tell people because, in my saner moments, I know that it isn't important and I don't like to be the center of even a small amount of attention.

Because what's the point? There's nothing different about a birthday; I'm not a year older than I was yesterday, I'm a day older, or maybe just a few hours older. An hour older now than I was at the start of the post (I had to discard a few paragraphs - don't judge!). So marking anniversaries seems pointless and silly to me, the metrics we use to catalog time are more or less arbitrary. But humans love patterns; birthdays, weeks, months - they are all just artificial categories that we sketched over nature. So we commemorate another year, another successful trip around the sun. Is that really cause for celebration?

I shouldn't say that few people wish me well on my birthday because I have received a large number of birthday wishes (thanks, Facebook!) and I am keeping those people in mind when I write this. I do feel appreciated and loved for all of the attention. And maybe that's the point. Because I do like to acknowledge birthdays of others, and I enjoy giving gifts. I like to celebrate and acknowledge my friends and family, to thank them for being in my life and being good people. Birthdays provide as reasonable an occasion to do that as anything else. I guess that graciously accepting congratulations, love and birthday wishes one day out of the year is a small price to pay to have so many great friends.

But I want to be clear: birthdays are absurd and pointless. Patton Oswalt says it best:

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