The first wish came on the 13th, from a writing friend in New Zealand, a place in the world where it was already my birthday. The next followed from an old New York friend, now in Japan, also a place where the day dawned on June 14th while here it was still the night before.
I woke up on the 14th and, although I wanted to be a better, fuller, less needy person, I logged on Facebook to see how many people had wished me a Happy Birthday on there. Only four, including those whom the sun kissed first in other far-flung places. Despite the fact that I’d warned myself not to expect too much of this birthday, as I do every year, my heart gave a little sink. Maybe this would be the year everyone would forget me.
By the time I saw the shiny balloons making their way up my walk, carried by a smiling delivery guy who pronounced “Maria” in Spanish and asked me if it was my fifteenth, the Facebook wishes had shot up to a respectable fifty-three, a good number to hit before noon, a suggestion that a similar fraction of Facebook friends would take the time to wish me well as had the year before. Why do I do this, I wondered, try to measure my worth by the appraisal of others? It is a familiar garment, worn in places, never comfortable, but one I choose to wear so often. How much I matter is measured by how much I’m acknowledged, like I’m the moon, lit only by the sun of others’ attention.
It’s blissfully cool in the house. The new air conditioner, installed yesterday in a kind of suburban intersection of need and pleasure as a utilitarian birthday present to myself, is quieter than the last one, and it keeps the whole house icy while shutting off for long stretches. It is a feat I can’t quite explain. Still, it makes the house quieter than it used to be, a drawn breath, bringing the neighborhood somehow closer at times, the gardeners’ voices easier to hear, the delivery truck rumbling down the block. It feels like the house is meditating, thinking, trying to be still. I think of the new plants I’ll go buy myself at lunch time and I’m glad for the quiet time before the dinner and the singing and the celebration.
It’s funny, all the pressure put on birthdays. For me, at least, this has always ended in frustration, the reality never quite touching the expectation. So, perhaps the best present I can give myself today is that of acceptance, for all that’s wild and beautiful and true in my life today, for all the many ways my life is charmed and protected, for the cool air that comforts me and the bright sky that beckons, I unroll my heart and try merely to be today. That I – that any of us – exist at all, is an improbable collection of happenstance, a fact at whose feet we can do not much more but wonder. Happy thing to be alive at all, on this day and every day.