I can’t remember being particularly sad about my birthday since I was a young girl. In a classic tale of childhood woe, hardly anyone showed up to one of my birthday parties and it was like the world had ended. It was at an indoor fun park with a ball pit, but even that couldn’t entice the cool kids to come. In the spirit of naivety and untarnished optimism, I was very sad very briefly, then brushed it off and had fun with the few who did show up – though it marked the beginning of my indifference.
The sadness is different, this time around.
I am slightly less glaringly unpopular than I was throughout my school years, far less naive, and a realist to my core. One thing hasn’t changed, though, and that is the amount of people who come to my parties. But I don’t mind.
As an introspective, oft reclusive type, I can count the amount of people in my life whose company I prefer over my own on one hand. Maybe one and a half, on a good day. And the fact that every single one of them is nowhere near me as 26 rolls around is… Well, it’s a stark reminder that there are drawbacks to having loved ones scattered across the country – across the globe.
The sadness is different this time because I’ve never really cared about birthdays, yet this one feels surprisingly raw and I’m not quite sure why.
I’m not one for big parties. I don’t need balloons to spell out my name, or a pile of extravagant gifts I’ll never use. I’m not against it, per se. It’s just not me. I am more than happy to simply eat a delicious meal with a few people I love and be done with it.
I told my mother on the phone the other day that I hadn’t organised anything, and she said “Do something. For God’s sake, don’t spend your entire life avoiding celebration like I have for 60 years.” I tend to heed her, so I planned a dinner. I invited everyone I wish would be there, and realised how few actually could be. And so I’m a little sad.
Maybe it’s an age thing. I am officially closer to 30 than 20, and while “age is just a number”, it’s hard not to feel a little thrown by that fact. A third of my life has been and gone. A third. And I’ve realised friendships become even more precious as time goes on. Anyone who has been around since the beginning and has stuck around until now is probably here for good. But others, ones I’ve met in the past few years… there is no guarantee. They might have come to my party last year, and they might not come this year. People breeze in and breeze out of your life at this age, and it’s hard not to wonder if it’s really worth getting attached.
Birthdays are just another day, but they stand out – whether we want them to or not. They cause us to pause and reflect on our lives. On what we have achieved and what we haven’t; who is still around and who isn’t. Whether we are doing a good enough job of this little thing called life. The existential dread creeps up on us and whispers in our ear. It pushes down on our shoulders, leans over and asks us questions we have no answer for, like why are you here?
But Existential Dread has a cousin, and I’d like to introduce you. Their name is Hope. When you least expect it, when you need it most, they wrap their arms around you in a warm embrace, kiss your tears away one by one and tell you that everything is going to be okay.
It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Reflection is healthy. Societal expectations of what your life should look like at any given age don’t matter whatsoever. You are doing beautifully, and you are so, so loved.
Hope taught me we can only do our best, and that doesn’t look the same for any two people. Every single person has their own story with all of its struggles and glories, and remembering that is imperative for empathic living – something we should all strive for.
It’s hard not to be disappointed when things don’t work out how we thought they would, but I always say that paths and choices in life aren’t better or worse, they are just different. Let’s embrace different together, and face what comes next with a sparkle in our eyes and determination in our hearts.
Oh, and you don’t have to celebrate this year if you don’t want to.
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