Six days before my birthday, an executive order called PAUSE went into effect in New York state, where I live. Nonessential retailers and businesses had to close, and residents had to stay home as much as possible. Pandemic pandemonium was at its height.
The day before my birthday, my sister mentioned that she passed by a shuttered Borough Restaurant and Bar. That restaurant has been my annual birthday hangout.
What’s ironic is that for years I anticipated the arrival of my birthday much as I do taking a simple trip to the grocery store these days — with a twinge of dread. And it’s not what you think. It wasn’t the dread of aging; it was the dread of being forgotten. Of feeling unloved. That’s difficult to admit.
During childhood and part of adulthood, I was painfully shy and therefore quiet. This often comes across as boring or unfriendly. Birthdays just seemed to amplify the fact that I wasn’t popular. I’d normally have one or two close friends who broke the barrier to get to know me. This is tolerable, until you decide to throw a party. For my not-so-sweet 16th, only a handful of friends came. It was an embarrassment — far too puerile in presentation compared with the dimly lit basement parties some of my peers would have — made worse by my best friend laughing with glee and saying, “This party is a drag.”
In my mind, my parents were the only two people in the world for whom the date of my birth was truly a time of joy, so after I left home for college, birthdays increasingly lost significance.
“I’ve worked hard at liking myself, being comfortable being alone with myself and being my own best friend, which isn’t always a pleasant process. You are forced to face your fears and faults, and take responsibility for the life you’re living.”
After college I moved to New York City. Working in the entertainment field, it was difficult to find true friends. A milestone birthday gathering was mostly populated by my cousin’s and my sister’s friends. Years later, for my 30th, a friend decided to throw me a big bash but neglected to send out invitations. I spent money on a party I didn’t want, and which few friends were able to attend. One plus for being a boomer: Social media wasn’t yet a thing — nor was the need to show the world how fabulous your life celebrations are, lest you look pathetic.
But there’s no need to cue Regina Carter on violin. An evolving mindset and better choices in friends have improved my attitude toward birthdays. Quarantine was not going to ruin my day. The only social media I planned to do was to post a silly video of me singing “Happy Birthday” to myself while washing my hands. I then informed folks that I would be social (media) distancing that day.
It wasn’t easy. There were no sounds coming from the television. Normally somewhat of a security blanket woven with white noise, it now preempted my calm with the somber gray clatter of pandemic news.
My intention for the day was to pamper myself. No work. No worries. Just being in the moment. I ate meals mindfully, savoring every bite. I took an online yin yoga class and videoconferenced meditation classes. I was feeling Zoom Zen. Later, I put on a facial sheet mask and realized that I only allow such indulgences when I need to write a product review for a beauty editor. I let it do its thing as I relaxed in a hot tub in a room bathed in flickering amber candlelight.
I finished the night slowly eating the last slice of a decadent chocolate cake I’d bought two weeks before under the rationale that people might hoard dessert foods. I allowed myself a quick visit to Facebook and looked at warm birthday wishes from family, friends and my Facebook Fam. And, yeah, sad but true, I was a little stoked when a little discomfort set in on a finger and my wrist from pressing the Like button several times. In the past I would berate myself for caring about this, thinking how sad this is, but I’ve decided I am worthy, and there are more than two people who feel my existence is a blessing.
I’ve worked hard at liking myself, being comfortable being alone with myself and being my own best friend, which when you venture inside of yourself isn’t always a pleasant process. You are forced to face your fears and faults, and take responsibility for the life you’re living. Sometimes the desire to be surrounded by people, and never be alone, is due to dissatisfaction, distrust of ourselves, perhaps even self-loathing, and the inability to face the actual loneliness we feel. Yet being alone can bring such nourishment to the soul.
Birthdays continue to be small, but so much more meaningful, when I appreciate more the quality of friends instead of quantity.
So my new year came in without the usual fanfare that I once thought I needed to feel appreciated, loved and alive. At the end of the day, I had a revelation: I did what I wanted to do instead of what might look impressive on Instagram.
’Rona put a pause on several plans. But it’s been having an interesting effect on people’s lives. For many of us, it has made us appreciate our lives, our loved ones and ourselves more.
And I marvel at my own realization that this was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.