Birthdays conjure up images of balloons, cake and thoughtfully wrapped presents. At what age does one get really excited about her/his birthday? I mean really excited! Until a child is around 5 years old, I suspect it is the parents (more so the mother perhaps?) who are the ones looking forward to the celebrations. For a child, it is perhaps an abstract concept and takes shape only when reminded that “everyone will be there to sing the Happy Birthday song when you cut the cake and blow out the candles”. And then there is the promise of presents to be unwrapped, either in the presence of all the guests, or later after everyone has left.
I recall attending a friend’s birthday party at the age of nine or ten and how anxious I had felt that everyone else’s present would be “better” than the offering I had brought along. If I remember correctly, it was a tin of biscuits that had been languishing in the kitchen pantry; my mother wrapped this up at the last minute as she had forgotten to buy a present! I might have felt more confident had she not made a big fuss that “there is nothing else we can organize at this late stage so these cookies will just do fine.” I guess it was the guilt about the manner in which the present was selected rather than its value that had made me uneasy.
Think back and reflect on your life. Can you remember that one exceptional birthday? When was it? What made it special? Was it a person or people generally? Was it any special gift(s)? Each of us no doubt can recollect our own special moments.
There are also the “milestone” birthdays. Until a child comes of age and is able to assert her/his views on how they would like to celebrate their birthday, parents plan and derive vicarious pleasure from these celebrations. Then come the teen birthdays and that oh-so-sweet-sixteenth (for some reason) birthday for the girls while the lads look forward to their nineteenth year’s (entitlement of possibly liquid) celebrations. The twenty-first, fortieth, fiftieth and each decade thereafter makes it a special event and occasionally a surprise for the honoree.
Our grandson turned three recently and the family gathered together to celebrate. He was happy to receive the presents but his only question was, “When will I get the cake?” The look on his face after he blew out the candles and sat there intently devouring his cake, was priceless.
A few days later, I visited with a friend who had celebrated his 92nd birthday a short while ago. I asked him how he was doing and he said, “I am not doing too well today. I am not going to die, but just want to go and lie down in my bed; they won’t let me”.
In my own case, three occasions stand out – two of them could be classified as (re-)birth days and one a special celebration of the day of my physical birth. I can never forget my gasping frantically for each breath when having a heart attack back in 1990. Five years ago, the doctors revived me as I had a cardiac arrest and so I consider myself reborn, twice over. The special celebration was the surprise 60th birthday party that my wife organized for me, but as I found out much later, paid for entirely by our son and son-in-law. Our daughter had reached out to over 60 special people in my life and collected their reflections on me, which were neatly packaged in an album! The icing on the cake, literally, was arranged by our then three years old granddaughter, who sat in my lap and proudly told me she had got her mum to bake the cake to “look like golf” (green) and her dad got the golf ball for it.
Birthdays? I have learned to celebrate birth-moments.
Each birthday is celebrated in our own way, with people who matter to us. Renowned Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz brings our ego down a peg or two by reminding us of our true status through these two ash’aar (couplets):
|Shā.er kā jashn–e–saalgirah hai sharaab laa||It is the poet’s birthday, bring out the wine|
|mansab ḳhitāb rutba unheñ kyā nahīñ milā||Dignity, Title, Stature, what has not been bestowed on him|
|bas naqs hai to itnā ki mamdūh ne koī||If (there is) any blemish/flaw it is just that the one (being) praised|
|misra.a kisī kitāb ke shāyāñ nahīñ likhā||Has not composed a couplet worthy of publication/recitation|
Something to reflect on, as we wax lyrical when celebrating Canada Day!
The original inhabitants of this land, the indigenous peoples have a saying that “A smile explains everything”; let our smiles come not just from the lips, but from the heart.