Marks of the STAF factor vary wildly from person to person but some of my current favorites in friends include: owning at least one item of clothing that makes you blush; answering “What music are you into these days?” without citing the radio, a movie soundtrack, or weekly worship; and the regular and unapologetic celebration of your own birthday.
Personally, I have given up on the celebration of most other people’s birthdays. At some point, deep into adulthood, you have to admit that it is no longer possible to care about all of the things worth caring about, like shaving your legs or keeping house plants alive, and in order to give an eff about the right things you need to give an eff about fewer things. And so it came to be that remembering other people’s birthdays was added to the list of things I have carefully considered to care less about.
It wasn’t always this way. There was a time, shortly after graduating college, when I asked my mother to send me a wall calendar with every known relative’s birth date. I was young, ambitious, and still marginally interested in what it would feel like to be a good woman. But even then I did the mental math and decided I could only reasonably be expected to celebrate the birthdays of underage cousins. One year, I may have even been so smug as to add cash to each of their cards.
Eventually, though, two things happened to dissuade me from my determination: Facebook and Other People’s Children. Facebook made remembering birthdays both effortless and public—neither good looks on me—and the exponential births of Other People’s Children made my now digital birthday calendar look like a bag of Skittles exploded over my screen. I recently learned of old friends who have put a moratorium on celebrating the births of second children. We will love the lights out of your first, they have said. But if you have another, we cannot be held responsible for remembering their name.
Celebrating my own birthday has not been without its comedy of errors. One year, a friend offered to throw me a party but when I got too directive with the details decided to call the whole thing off. Another year, the first our former foster kiddos shared with us, I planned an oyster bake in the backyard that got overshadowed by their melancholy. I am so sorry you are sad, I wanted to say, but I really do not know what more I can do for you than boil hot dogs on the side.
This year, because I believe in my own birthday so very much, I dedicated one whole therapy session to deciding how I would celebrate it. This wasn’t as fun as it sounds. There was some unexpected crying, and long pauses, and once I asked how much time I had left.
Finally, at the end, my therapist asked me if she could give me a present that I was under no obligation to like or not like. I just had to notice my response to it. She calls these “experiments” and I never say no because I want to appear open—and also get my money’s worth. And so I closed my eyes, counted three deep breaths, and then opened them to find a skinny candle the color of the rainbow in her palm.
“What is it?” I asked, a laugh ready to launch from my throat.
“It’s a wish candle,” she said. “And you can have as many wishes as there is wax.” She pulled a lighter out from her pocket, lit the candle, and moved the flame toward me.
Perhaps it was because it had been so long since I had made a wish—for someone who enjoys other people who still give an eff I spend an awful lot of time acting like I don’t—but I blew out the candle faster than you could say “flatforms.”
Then, politely and more slowly—as if there was infinite time for and trust in my appetites, because there is, and God told me so, that asking is an act of love and an ode to not giving up on yourself—I wondered, “May I have another?”
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