This past Sunday was an important day for me. I'll give you a hint. You only get one of these once a year, no matter how old you are. But the celebrations, learning, growing, thriving, and living continues all year round. Give up? Let me help you out.
It was my BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!! That's right. I'm now 32 years young. Or old. How you'd like to put it doesn't matter to me. In case you haven't noticed, birthdays are VERY important to me, especially after a bad memory dating all the way back to fifth grade. It was my special day, and I was very excited. I woke up, got ready for school, and was dropped off that morning. But as I walked into class, I noticed something that broke my heart. Nobody, literally NOBODY, acknowledged that it was my birthday. I was confused. I was angry. I was upset. As I sat down at my desk and my teacher took roll call, the tears came flowing down my face. When the instructor called out my name, my voice broke. Some of my classmates looked at me and started whispering among themselves in confusion. After all the names were called (and I was the last person to be called), my teacher took me outside of the classroom and asked me what was wrong. I sadly told her that it was my birthday, and nobody remembered. She was very sympathetic and wished me a happy birthday. After a few minutes outside, I went back in, and everyone wished me a happy birthday. That made me feel a little bit better. Emphasis on "a little". For the rest of the day, and pretty much for most of my life, that memory stayed with me. How could my classmates, my friends, my teacher, and even my principal forget that it was my birthday? I thought everyone would remember your birthday. In all honestly, I thought that was one of the worst birthdays I've ever had in my life. Another rough birthday was when I was at IUN and I was coming home from classes. Both my mom and my dad had to work that evening, and we couldn't celebrate together. I was upset. I thought they didn't care or realize how special my birthday was. I mean, was it possible for them to take off that day? I went into the Subway to grab a sandwich for dinner and the tears flowed again. The sandwich maker/cashier asked me what was wrong, and I told her that it was my birthday, and both of my parents had to work. She was sympathetic and wished me a happy birthday. And then there was Facebook. When I was first starting out on the website, I was looking forward to practically ALL of my friends wishing me a happy birthday. I only got about 1/4 of my friends who took the time to wish me a happy birthday. I lashed out on Facebook, wondering why didn't everyone wish me a happy birthday. Didn't you care? Do you like me? Is there something wrong with me? (Here's something that's been weighing heavily on my heart. For all of the friends and acquaintances I know on Facebook who are on my friend list, I take the time to wish ALL of them a happy birthday, even if it's a day late in some instances. When it comes to my birthday, however, there's still only a small portion of friends who take the time out to wish me a happy birthday. Some of these questions above still swirl in my mind to this day. Many of the people I know on Facebook have more friends than I do, and nearly all of them remember their birthday. I wish there was a simple explanation as to how when I can remember your birthday and take the time to wish you a happy birthday, but why you can't remember mine. You have no idea how many years I've struggled with this.) I'm sure there are people out there who have had way worse birthdays than mine. But do you see my point? Ever since fifth grade, birthdays have held a special place in my heart. And it should hold a special place in your hearts as well, no matter how old or how young you are. It may be depressing that you're growing older, but the thing that you need to remember is you should be thankful to be living another year, older and hopefully wiser. Not many people live for so many years as we hope to. Each and every birthday is a celebration of life itself. The fact that you were birthed to make an impact in your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and even strangers says something important: your life DOES matter, and each life has a purpose. Every year on your birthday, you have a chance to discover more about what that purpose is, big or small. You look back on what you've learned and the experiences you've had, good or bad. You celebrate what's to come, your hopes, dreams, and ideas, life-changing or not. It's a chance to celebrate YOU as an individual and all the joy, wisdom, laughter, tears, and memories you've brought to others around you by being yourself.
This particular birthday was quite the experience. In case you didn’t realize, we’re in the midst of a global pandemic and many of our plans went to the wayside. Mine included.
My birthday traditions in recent years consisted of a get together at Pi Pizzeria in DC (I can’t go without my deep dish pizza. Yum!) on Tuesday night the week before or of my big day with my women’s Bible study group.
The next day, I would get up in the wee hours of the morning to catch the metro to DC to catch a bus from Union Station or in some cases, Greenbelt Station, and head up to NYC to spend a wonderful day doing what makes me happy. This would include a stroll between 7th and 8th Avenue up to Times Square, do a little bit of shopping, have lunch at Shake Shack or try some authentic NYC style pizza, and then a lovely few hours at the theatre for an afternoon matinee. After hanging out at the stage door for some autographs and birthday wishes, I would pick up my dinner from my favorite Chinese restaurant and head back to the bus stop for the long ride back to DC.
Usually, a birthday lunch or dinner with my mom would cap out the week, and I may continue the celebration for a while afterwards.
I was looking forward to this birthday because of these traditions I began back in 2013. I was also looking forward to making new traditions in honor of my 70+ pound weight loss, finishing therapy after 6-7 years, and the many opportunities I had to act in productions this past year.
That all fell to the wayside real fast because of the pandemic.
Broadway shut down on 12 March, six days before I was going back up there to see the new cast of Frozen. I thought that the theaters would open up again by September. Sadly, that wasn’t meant to be.
Many restaurants in the DMV closed and went strictly to carry-out, and many people were uncomfortable doing indoor dining again. Myself included. So, I couldn’t do Pi Pizzeria with my friends this year.
So many things got cancelled, postponed, or delayed because of this pandemic.
So many plans had to change out of concern, kindness, and even a little bit of fear.
But the beauty is that things change ALL the time, and all we have to do is go with the flow and enjoy the lessons and opportunities that it brings us.
I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one who had to cancel plans this year to keep myself and others safe. I’m not the only one saddened by the fact that I couldn’t celebrate with my friends in person.
We have to remember that we are all in this together, no matter where we are.
And we can still find the time to celebrate the big and small moments in the midst of a pandemic.
I thought for this week I could share with you some of the biggest lessons I learned from growing and maturing as the years go quickly by. I hope these thoughts, ideas, inspirations, and dreams may give you something to think about when your birthday comes around or even as you celebrate a new year.
(Something to keep in mind as you read these reflections, and it bears repeating from my previous posts. These are MY opinions, observations, and experiences. You have every right to disagree with me. What I say here shouldn’t have to be the only way or the right way to go about things.)
*This is a lesson I learned from watching The Drew Barrymore Show today. Be sure to celebrate others and cheer them on in every stage of life. If you’re selective about who or what to celebrate with others, don’t be surprised to find that not many people or even none will be there to celebrate your victories and encourage you through the bad times.
*The best kind of present to have is MEMORIES and EXPERIENCES, not physical items you might throw away in a matter of days, weeks, or months.
*You can have all the friends and acquaintances in the world who know you and your life in some way, but find out who your REAL friends are. These are the ones who will encourage you day after day, check in with you in a flash if you’re struggling, and even inspire you to celebrate the smallest of victories when you have so much on your plate. Here’s something to think about, your REAL friends might not be that large in number to begin with. It could be very small. Be grateful for that small circle. It’s better than being alone at all.
*It’s okay to ask for help, even if you need a nudge to do so. You will always get a “no” if you’re not willing to ask for assistance and guidance.
*Mistakes are the best way to learn and grow, even if it seems humiliating.
*While it’s nice to have a career centered around you, be sure to branch out to different hobbies and likes outside of your life’s work in order to be well-rounded and have a chance to relax. It could be reading, learning a new language, photography, hiking, cooking, writing snail mail, listening to music, whatever your heart desires. Be sure to allow yourself to be exposed to the world around you and not be afraid to try new things in order to relax from working hard at your career.
*It is okay to cut out people who are doing more harm than good, even if it’s your family. Toxic relationships are not healthy, and while it hard to say goodbye and move on, doing so will take off a huge weight off your shoulders, clear your mind, and allow you to breathe easier. I made the conscious decision to cut my sister out from my life because of the abuse, along with much of my father’s side of the family. It was hard, but I had to do this in order to heal and move forward.
*Forgiveness DOES NOT mean that what that person did to you wasn’t wrong and condoning their behavior. It means that you are healing and releasing the heaviness of your heart in order to move on. Sometimes it has to be done through a soul-to-soul exchange if you’re uncomfortable with speaking in person. It also doesn’t mean you have to pick up where you left off. You’ve grown, matured, and are different from what you were years ago. You can’t go back to where you were before. (See the Ragtime reference I made there?)
*You don’t always have to follow the crowd. Sometimes, being your own individual is the best way to live your life, even if it’s not the “status quo.”
*Each and everyone of us has a VOICE. If there is a cause, injustice, or belief you feel strongly about, speak up! Don’t be silent. Being silent or neutral says you side with those who are the oppressors and that can be just as much of a problem.
*Sometimes being silent in reflection is good for you. It allows your mind to clear, focus on the present, and come up with ideas and inspiration for even your hardest of problems.
*Being out in nature does wonders for your mental health.
*It takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.
*It’s okay to feel like a kid sometimes, especially if it involves eating food you had growing up, a show you grew up with, or a song you had on repeat. Just don’t let it take over your psyche and make you a spoiled brat in every little thing you do, especially if it involves your career.
*What’s worse than moving forward? Standing still.
*Taking the time to know someone else who is different from you in race, age, religion, and sexuality allows you to see the world in a new way. It helps you see that a variety of people is better than if we’re all the same.
*Never forget where you’ve come from, but also remember where you’re going when it’s time to spread your wings and fly.
*Trying new things keeps your mind young and curious.
*NEVER put your career before the things that should take precedent: God/your faith, family, friends, and relationships.
*Education is all around us, even if it’s not always in the classroom. The path to our dream career isn’t and shouldn’t be uniform as long as we take the time to learn about ourselves, each other, and what makes us happiest.
*Communication goes a long way, even if it’s to simply say “thank you.”
*A gentle soul doesn’t denote weakness. In fact, they could be the strongest person in your life because they show the deepest kindness and courage.
*A heart is not judged by how much you love, but how much you are loved by others. Especially on your birthday. You can have 1,000 friends wishing you a happy birthday, or even a fraction of that number. It shows that they love you and care about you. Sometimes, that fraction of your friends celebrating your birthday is enough to know that you’re loved.
Sometimes growing older can be quite depressing, but growing up can be just as much fun because you’ve had a full year to learn, mature, thrive, and celebrate.
Birthdays are a great way to learn more about yourself and how far you’ve come in the past year. Just think: your whole calendar year as another year older is worth celebrating indeed. It means you are always taking the time to see the world in new ways each and every day. You meet new people who might cause you to rethink past thoughts and ideas, and be open to new opportunities and dreams. You get to create new memories through experiences and adventures, good and bad. You discover how strong and resilient you are during the worst possible times. But most of all, you are reminded that you are LOVED, year after year after year.
Don’t be afraid of growing older. Embrace it. But more importantly, embrace the love that comes with each birthday. Even if that age isn’t a landmark year, you are still loved.
By the way, I plan to celebrate being 32 for the rest of 2020 since we’re in quarantine. Who’s with me?