The looming date I used to count towards with unbridled excitement now terrorized my subconscious. Almost biologically, my mind started racing once April 7th was a month away. Consciously I was thinking of the multiple upcoming weddings and simultaneous midterms, but my mind won out sleepless night after sleepless night until I recognized why I needed Starbucks the next morning.
Turning another corner, claiming another age without accomplishing what I set out to do last birthday is frightful. The birthday cake and sugar high of youth now marks the deadline for annual accomplishments; once you age, and turn another year old, you should have fulfilled more. Birthdays are individual goals, we each reach that milestone at our own pace with our own agendas for each age.
Not feeling accomplished on your special day spoils the joy of living, because the competition only heightens as our age climbs. We set up these goals for each age, before we know the challenges of growing up. I’m worried about spending another year as a failure, a failure in my own terms.
I am plagued with the rut I seem to be in, surrounded by the same family and friends as I have always been on each birthday. Even if I don’t physically see my family on that day, they linger through my cellphone and Shabbat birthday cake.
It’s funny because we are supposed to be more comfortable with ourselves as young adults than as teenagers. That necessary self-acceptance can solely transcend the fear, and it’s the greatest gift we can accept upon ourselves for our birthdays. There needs to be fewer expectations on my part and more celebration. I’m still young.
Goals should only prompt me forward, not dictate a constant visitation to a past I never learn from. Chocolate cake can be my madeliene, the perfect opportunity to glance at the year I just lived and learn from it. The chance to be thankful for twelve months of friendship, support and changes are all possible on the dreaded b-day I’ve been resisting.
I am scared to look and think about missed opportunities in the past year. But even the madeleine allusion is new, just like my growing belief that I can do anything.
Perhaps the celebration can be one of thought, to pull out the headphones and listen to your heart. Steve Jobs told graduates of Stanford University, “I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Birthdays are just that, an individual day to take stock and make changes. Yes, I am surrounded by many of the same friends as my previous birthdays, but we have grown together and the wisdom and love we entwine each other with allows us to reach higher and shine brighter.
The love is what scared me this birthday. They told me to be happy on a day all I wanted to do was cry and mourn my fallen youth. But their cheer, the midnight phone call to sing happy birthday, the birthday cards and gifts, and the belated dinner of close friends sharing a long awaited Eden Wok meal—it all meant that I was loved, regardless of how I had or had not advanced.
This year I had to learn acceptance in order to celebrate all I am proud of. Everything will be alright if you keep me next to you, my friends silently shared in their hugs. They are among the things I am not changing.
While this year is nothing special, I can already drink (off campus), drive, and vote, it’s another year of life, another gift. I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling 22.