The dark room lit with only candles, smiling faces beaming downwards, welcoming their sing-song voices cascading ear-ward, I look around, thankful for it all. It feels almost surreal, the birthday song. It's sort of daisical, I get shy. For the thought of personal attention, through a simple measure like being born, seems undeserving. The personal sublimity that I experience in that moment, the moment where the birthday song is being sung to no one but me, is impossible to reenact in daily non-birthday life. Every year I look forward to it and dread it at the same time. It's a sort of game where I'm happy that people like me and care enough for me to send me gifts and make me cake and surprise me, but at the same time, I feel insecure about whether or not I deserve such treatment. I'm just me, really nothing too special, nothing to make cake about (especially kinds with yummy peanut butter frosting!). But regardless of the inner-conflict, I let the singing commence and I love it, every second of it, despite feeling guilty for doing so.
Lets zero in on the birthday song, it's just beginning. Lets go back to the room. The darkness. The smiling faces. The candles. In this moment, this year, I am here, in Taiwan, beside loving individuals, looking around in wonder. The darkness acting as a safe-haven for the candles to burn, home to the candle two stuck beside the candle three on top of a homemade birthday cake, the setting. As the singing begins, I drift into a third-person narrative, a sort of story beyond self. He's 23 years old today. Feeling unsure as to what 23 should or shouldn't feel like, he sits awkwardly in his chair, one foot sort of leaning against the other, like teetering dominoes. His smile, big and brawny, like he's produced since age 8, perfecting it at Chucky Cheese or Discover Zone Kids, stealing it from his mom, his smile is pure and innocent. He's wearing a black shirt and many others in the room are wearing different shades of blue, then again it's dark, so these colors seem faded into the background. While the song sings on, his eyes start by looking down at his misplaced feet, then up, glancing undoubtedly towards the faces, in order to take it all in. He's in this place, fourth floor, a school, a township, a county, a country (far away from anything he has known before). He feels the love emulating like a sort of magic from the friends surrounding him. It's a good feeling. He's immensely fortunate and blessed. The song concludes, the procession claps heartily. The lights turn on and he's taken back to reality (and cake!).
For my birthday, I received phone calls from friends abroad and friends anew. E-mails and messages by the handfuls. Birthday messages of well wishes and good will. These are what birthdays are made of. Of caring friends sending packages with brimming faces. Of dancing in a club and taking plenty of pictures. Of laughing until the pain reaches the ribs. Of surprise german pancakes and 23-reasons. Of whiteboard messages and young voices saying, 'you deserve a good day'. Of hand-painted calligraphy. Of the flying white birds alongside the happy god. It seems today, I was given many blessings from this deity.
It's strange to think of a birthday abroad. Childhood birthdays of home and family always conquer my idea of what it means to have a birthday. From my early days at Chucky Cheeses, standing alongside the mechanical monster band and playing in the plastic balls, I've been enthralled with the self-righteousness that birthdays create. Americana is all about such luxurious affairs, the power behind the ME of American attitude. My birthday with My friends and My presents. In Taiwan, things are the opposite. Most people celebrate their birthday on Chinese New Year, some children don't even know when their birthday is. Since growing older, and especially in coming into a culture that discourages the individuality of birthdays, I've come to realize that birthdays are less about me and more about them. About the family, the friends, the connections that build me up and tear me down, that hold me up and keep me going. It connects me to the greater understanding of being thankful for those that show unrequited love on a regular basis. That despite the opportunity to reward a person based on the date given to them by some outward force, I am able to be in constant gratitude for people so wonderful around me. And it's not that I don't love birthdays, because I definitely do, its just that, I want to ensure I don't rely too heavily on the expectations that a birthday can create. That I take the year older as a signifier towards living a new day, another day, among great things, and ensure that I'm thanking those around me. I can withdraw the self and implore the valley within and be thankful for those around me for building me up. So for this birthday, my biggest wish is to say to you, rather than you to me, Happy Birthday. You deserve everything.