“How was your Birthday?”
It figured Taylor would be the first one at work on Monday to ask me the dreaded question after my birthday weekend. She’s probably the sweetest, nicest person in the office, with the kind of hopeful — if not meek — voice that makes answering in any other way besides a Tony the Tiger “GRRREEAT” feel like letting her down.
But I couldn’t lie. It had been bugging me too much. I had to tell her.
“It sucked,” I just let out, my voice a tempered mixture of relief at admitting the fact and shame in recalling the memories of another birthday spent feeling sorry for myself.
It didn’t have to suck. Unlike past years, I didn’t have to be at work or at school, and also unlike past birthdays, my parents seemed to be especially willing to invest a whole day into letting me know they were up to doing whatever I wanted to do.
The only problem was that I didn’t want to do anything. Or at least I didn’t want to do anything on a Sunday before another stressful week at work. Wait a second; was that the excuse I used, or was it not wanting to spend money out for a dinner I could make myself or not wanting to throw off my parents’ plans after their own busy weekend out-of-state? The whole thing played out just as it always does, and just like not celebrating my 21st birthday because I spent the majority of it stuck in the Salt Lake City airport, this year’s saw me doing everything in my power to try to downplay the event. Too many past birthday dinners that could never live up to expectations and too much money spent on stuff I neither thought I wanted nor needed had entrenched regret and guilt in my mind, and judging by the way I’ve allowed the stress of recent work and world events get to me, I wasn’t about to get my hopes up for something material and fleeting.
One thing led to another though, and after spending my actual birthday alone doing, well, nothing, I found myself at the proverbial birthday dinner with my parents, knowing gifts — perhaps of necessity, perhaps for enjoyment — awaited me when we got home. It was a Sunday night, and even though it’s where I said I wanted to be, it was the last place I wanted to be.
We make our own luck, I suppose, because as luck would have it, the whole thing turned into something of a disaster. From the exceptionally small plates that left me feeling robbed without feeling satiated, to the usual banter between my parents and even the waitress’ losing our credit card, the entire dinner reached into the depths of all my anxiety issues and left them on the table like an uneaten breadbasket. The night, like many before it, ended with harsh words being exchanged between my mother, father, and I, and a feeling of guilt and shame that comes with the recognition that we should never have even tried to make the night ‘special.’ It just served to remind me how alone I feel in life, and didn’t do anything to make me remember the past year as one worth celebrating.
I hardly spoke to my parents the rest of the night, and the gifts they left out are still sitting in our basement, unopened. The gifts — wrapped tightly in glittering paper and red bows, like candy canes — are there for when “I feel like celebrating.”
But after the way I treated the two people who love me more than anything in this world, and after feeling the guilt and shame of being unable to smile and feel gratitude for all the gifts they have given me in life, I couldn’t imagine when that time for celebrating would be.
It might not be far off. Later on that night, before I went to bed, I was glancing at passages in this Advent reflections book I had grabbed at church but had then abruptly tossed into a corner of my room. I was reading back through the entries listed for the days I had missed, and, turning to the day of my birthday, I read the following words:
God loves you. He really does…Where you may see only your sins and failings, your Father sees your heart. He knows you’re not immaculate, but he also knows how much you want to do what is right. He knows all of your dreams, your needs, and your hopes. Nothing is impossible for him…
It’s telling, isn’t it? That same kind of unconventional Divine love and recognition of an imperfect love returned is so akin to the relationship many of us have with those closest in our lives. My parents would and have done everything for me in my life — from giving me life to providing me with a place to live to believing in me even when I have given up on myself. Yet that love, like God’s love, is something that recognizes intent, and recognizes a yearning and desire to return the favor, even though our actions so often fail to live up to what we really desire. For me — the son who constantly struggles with showing gratitude and living the life of happiness they want for me — just that knowledge that they know I want to, well, that makse all the difference.
The morning after my birthday celebration gone wrong, my father hugged me. It was one of those weird, you’d-never-expect it hugs that a father gives his grown son, but in his embrace I felt like he understood the realization I had come to from reading that reflections book. Suddenly all my guilt, all my shame, it just flew away. Even though we never seem to be on the same page in getting along and doing the things that convey our love for each other, we both would do anything, and I mean anything, for each other. They say it’s the thought that counts a lot this time of year. The more I experience life, the more I realize that’s not just a trite saying for Christmas presents, but something we experience everyday in our lives. My issues, my anxieties, like a lot of peoples’, they aren’t going to go away with a one good day or one attempt to change or push my boundaries. But even though we might not show those close to us we’ve ‘made it,’ we can still show them our intent. And, just as God loves and forgives each one of, so our loved one’s will recognize the intent behind our actions, and continue to love us even when we seem ungrateful.
That’s something worth celebrating, and not just for birthdays, Holidays, or special occasion, but for every day we share together.