Sunday, November 19, 2023

Birthday Magic: How and When it is OK to Feel Special and Entitled

Teen with Dad in a restaurant in front of two juicy burgers
On this impromptu magical trilogy, I started off with the “magic box” and will end with Mozart’s Magic Flute, but I decided to sandwich this one on the magic of birthdays right in between. Why? You may ask. Instead of the usual lippy comment of well, why not that I am wont to give, I would add because it was my birthday recently, and contrary to custom and practice, the day and event overall ended up not being special or memorable for that matter (though there were still a few bright moments courtesy of my son). It was a mix of as well as back and forth between unwanted rollercoaster drama, some bad luck, and boredom, neither of which I am particularly fond of, to be honest.

It was then I realized that no matter how entrenched we are in our supposed denial and upfront rejection of childhood wishes and fantasies - ironically, those who claim to be mature tend to be the least so - there are moments where traces of this desire and longing can still be felt. And I am not talking about the quest for a father figure, as in religion or politics, or even the search for maternal affection often encountered in various forms of arts and other types of connection, such as the sense of community, no I mean in its most simple, natural, and unadulterated form imaginable: the celebration of one’s birthday.

Unlike Christmas, the delusion and disillusion are not abrupt and sudden. The child or teen (God forbid adult) who discovers sooner or later that they have been duped (lied to, manipulated, taken for a ride) by the people whom they trust and confide the most (parents, caregivers, friends, families, or even credible sources like NASA with its annual Santa tracker) is suddenly confronted with the non-existence of the jolly Santa Claus they took relish in. Although they may have harbored doubts throughout, there will be one day when the proverbial scales fall from their eyes and they see and realize the truth. Although they will continue celebrating Christmas and accepting gifts (who wouldn’t?), the magic is irrevocably gone and lost forever.

Not so when it comes to birthdays. I remember as a child always looking forward to it. You would get the whole deal of cake and gifts and sometimes friends, but I would always enjoy the extra attention that was bestowed upon me. For most of my childhood days, I had felt left out, perhaps even ignored, and neglected, but on that specific day, things were different. With my brothers, we had an unspoken agreement that the entire day came with a free day pass of not getting bullied, ridiculed, or beaten. In reality, things were not that gloomy and violent between us, but it still brings the point across that this day would be considered out of the ordinary even through the lens and prism of sibling rivalry.

One of the cruelest things you could imagine is to be mean to someone on their birthday, something that becomes inversely proportionate to age. There was once an elementary school teacher who made my son cry on his birthday. I had only found out as we were celebrating his day by eating hamburgers in our favorite restaurant (the same one where various years later, we would be doing exactly the same thing), but it broke my heart as he was recounting there and then what had happened to him with tears streaming down his face. I was filled with feelings of anger and impotence. This was just not right and would and could never ever be justified.

Yet I am glad to report that his other birthdays were much happier events and circumstances and even during the pandemic, we ensured that he had a good time and felt special and in that case, I especially felt it on my pocketbook as well. Yet, whether we acknowledge it or not, we have this craving to be acknowledged and feel special on our day! Interestingly, most people (with the exception of that awful unnamed schoolteacher) recognize this need and more or less oblige the birthday person regardless of their age.

And here is the rub indeed. Age can make a difference in our perception and experience of birthdays. What used to be a moment of celebration, you are counting your years up toward getting older and becoming a full-fledged adult (at least in legal terms), somewhat later down the road turns into this slope where you resent that day because it is now a countdown toward various unavoidable issues and limitations but most importantly towards our inevitable demise.

Whether single or not, the numbers keep piling up and we become worried about major markers in that respect, the big round numbers that await us as time flies and rushes in a hurry. We lose some of our glow and our faculties slow down, or at least we think so, and we may doubt and question our decisions in the past as well as our current conditions, be they on a personal, professional, or inter-relational level. It must be stated that birthdays due to their unique and personal importance to the individual are quite different than collective new starts and beginnings, such as the celebration of the new year with its various hopeful and optimistic resolutions that few of us accomplish, let alone take seriously.

Birthdays are all about you. So it also feels strange when yours coincides with someone else’s, a stranger, a friend, a family member, or even a celebrity. In a way, we tend to appropriate that day, it becomes ours and stands out from the three-hundred score other days of the year. And why shouldn’t it?

We are all born once, and it was on that very day that we entered the world and took our first breath. The journey, our journey started on that particular day. All the adventures and experiences, the joy and happiness, the pain and suffering, the lessons of wisdom alongside the many mistakes to get there all had a beginning point, the date of our birth.

That date is often used for identification purposes, but one’s birth is not merely important for keeping count of your age but also because where you come into the world is often tied and connected with your nationality. The country and city you set foot in become a major part of who you are regardless of your ethnic background. Space and time already combine to start shaping who you are and who you shall become on this footpath of life.

So yes, birthdays are a big deal indeed. And I say, not only do you deserve to celebrate it, but you ought to. Give yourself a day pass to feel free to feel special on that day. Nowadays, many people talk about entitlement, making others who may be more successful and/or privileged than the majority feel guilty while also shaming and blaming them often simply based on their appearance and/or background, but let that not affect you or bring you down, at least not on your special day. By the way, this also extends and applies to those who are not the best or ideal kind of members of the community. They also have the right to feel special for at least one day of the year. Be magnanimous and grant it to them even if you may feel deep inside that they do not deserve it.

Everyone is in their own way special. This comes simply from the fact that each of us is unique. By definition, that makes us special, and we stand out from the rest. We may dim our lights and the glimmer and shine that surround us, we may divert from who we are and try to mold it into something else to fit in better with others, or with groups, religions, and ideologies, or we may even pretend to be someone else or someone we are not.

Speaking of which, I am fully aware that there are some who always feel special regardless of reality and their current circumstances as well as those who demand to be treated special 24/7 often without putting any effort into anything, and then, there are those who feel more special than everyone else. To these types of people, every day may feel like a birthday, but my guess would be that deep inside they know it is a sham and pretense, and if not, life will let them know and wake them up to reality sooner or later. Put differently, even narcissists are suffering, and they crave constant attention. If you wish to ignore them every other day of the year, that is fine, but still do a little bit to make them special on the day they are actually entitled to feel so.

So circle the day of our birth on your calendar, take the day off if you can (I would like this to be automatic and legislated as a mandatory paid holiday for each and everyone), get together with friends and loved ones if you prefer or just spend it on your own doing something you love, and go ahead make our day and feel special. You know you are entitled to it.

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