This time last year, I sat down to write about my first birthday away from home. I was only a few hours nineteen, and my whole, new, beautiful year was stretched out before me. Now, I’m having my second birthday away from home. I’m twenty years old, two whole decades of life lived. So far, my day has been simply a day. I’ve gone to work, taken a midterm, eaten a turkey sandwich for lunch—all the things that make up a normal Tuesday. But this Tuesday is different because I’ve been walking around feeling like I’ve been given a shiny secret or a special hug. I’ve always loved birthdays, and I thought that as I got older they would start to lose their specialness, that they wouldn’t mean as much to me. And now, twenty birthdays later, I’m still as excited for every single one. I still make plans and dream dreams and feel like tap-dancing every time March 9 appears on the calendar. Two decades is not a lot of time in the grand scheme of things, but it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s my very own period of time, and I cannot wait to see what comes next.
I always treat my birthday like the New Year, evaluating the old year and thinking about expectations for the new. For Year Nineteen, I finished my first full year of college, had my first real job, got one of my dream internships, completed a big project I’d been dreaming of for years and visited nine airports. 365 days ago, I chose as the year’s theme a quotation by Mary Oliver: “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I came a lot closer to actually figuring out my goals and plans for my life—getting the internship, working at the museum, traveling to those nine airports all contributed to figuring out the type of person I want to be and the type of life I think would be fun and rewarding to lead. For this year, I’ve decided that my theme will be a quotation by Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.” I’m already one of the most impatient people I know, so I figure that patience is a good goal for this year. Also, not being so focused on answers. I spend a lot of my life studying for exams and writing papers, trying, sometimes desperately, to find the answers to questions that I sometimes don’t understand or don’t think are truly important in the grand scheme of things.
But that’s another thing I like about birthdays. Birthdays put life in perspective. In his commencement address, This is Water, David Foster Wallace points out that we are always the center of attention in our own lives. He writes that “Everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute center of the universe, the realest, most vivid and important person in existence […] Think about it: There is no experience you’ve had that you were not at the absolute center of. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.” This is entirely true, and it hit me like a 1,000 lb. weight in a Monty Python sketch. I am the most self-centered person I know, because no matter how hard I try, I can never truly see the world through someone else’s eyes. I can empathize all I want, but I’ll only ever know for sure my own reactions. So, birthdays. It’s the one day where I feel validated in being a little bit self-centered, but I still feel guilty, because for everyone else, it’s an unbirthday. Just an ordinary or extraordinary day, but the day is not full of intrinsic meaning for them. For me, this date means that I am alive, that I am a part of the world, that I have dignity and worth and that I have every right to go out and do some remarkable deed that sets the world on fire. For many other people around the world, March 9 has a similar meaning. I love knowing that I share a birthday with strangers. It’s fun to think about them and their lives and celebrations, to hope that they’re doing well and that the same mysterious people who celebrated with me last year and the year before are celebrating with me again.
As with every year, this year will be a challenge. But it’s also one of the best presents I’ve ever received. I get the chance to make one more journey around the sun, a journey that promises more rewards than any other trip I could ever take. I feel entirely blessed and a little unprepared, but I just have to take it one day at a time. Tomorrow is the second day and then there will be a third, and a fourth, and so on. Each day is a tiny piece of wonderful, another slice of character building and compassion and patience. I am so excited to go out and find the questions. This time, I don’t really think it will matter if I ever find the answers.
P.S. Just for fun, my horoscopes for the day and a word from a gal who has her priorities straight.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20): An event is too important to deal with casually. Make specific plans. You’ll pull off something grand.
Today’s birthday (March 9): This month, something amazing happens: You communicate the things that bother you, and loved ones change their behavior. Romance sweeps you off your feet in May. Gemini and Pisces people adore you. Your lucky numbers are 15, 30, 14, 44 and 18.
“Fly free and happy beyond birthdays and across forever, and we’ll meet now and then when we wish, in the midst of the one celebration that never can end.” –Richard Bach