Every year on my birthday, even if it’s a particularly bad one, I remember to be grateful for my life. For one thing, any number of events could have gone differently, and I would not exist (which I guess pretty much goes for everyone).
I had to share my first birthday with half a dozen other kids, who were also turning 1, in a Filipino refugee camp. The UN nurses stationed there arranged a joint party. I was frustrated that all the singing and clapping was delaying the eating of the cake (which I had never experienced before; I just knew it looked amazing). Mom says I screeched like a barn owl because I was so impatient. I took a couple swipes at the icing when no one was looking (except the photographer).
In our early years in America, birthdays were simple affairs. The guest list was small, and my gifts came in shoe boxes, sometimes wrapped in butcher paper. I was just thankful I didn’t have to share with other kids.
Birthdays in the Shire were legendary. The adults used any occasion to congregate, cook a bunch of food, drink alcohol, gamble…and we kids took full advantage. We played games in the dark, reveled in being unsupervised while running through the fields and spooking one another. Relatives and friends of the family would show up with gifts, but more commonly the birthday girl or boy received envelopes containing cold, hard cash. We all knew, though, that if you hung around the adults long enough, one of them would win a particularly large hand and pay the nearest kid to bring them more Heineken or a chicken leg. You might also get roped into a calf, shoulder, or foot rub. They played a card game called Thaem Daeng (similar to Black Jack) well into the early hours of morning. The rooms would be thick with cigarette smoke, which I found irritating. I hated the smell of cigarettes. Eventually, all the kids would pass out in various corners of my aunt’s house. I once slept across three chairs, trying to breathe through a bath towel.
I called my mom today, as I always do on my birthday. After asking me what menu she should plan for my birthday visit, she gave me this serious piece of advice: “Be careful not make too much fun, OK?” Yes, Mom. I’ll be careful.
After 31 years on this planet, I have come up with some things I would tell my 20-year-old self, if I were able to go back in time like Harry Potter and throw a stone at myself to warn of impending danger. (A note to Noonie: It still doesn’t make sense!) Some of these I have recently stumbled upon, but they are in no particular order.
- 95% – 98% of everything my mother told me turns out to be true. (Feel free to gloat, Mom.)
- Anxiety is the feeling you get when you have low self-confidence and always assume you are not ready for [insert life event] even though you really are. And the only way to get over it is to do it.
- You don’t really start to appreciate your parents/grandparents/aunts/uncles until you acknowledge and accept your own mortality.
- Compassion and forgiveness do not entail sticking with a situation in which someone is causing you suffering. Sometimes the only solution is to walk away.
- When you have nothing to hide, your interactions with people become less strained. When there is no divisiveness in your actions, you can face the world with an open heart.
- Yoga will change your life.
- Debate is really just a method of orderly arguing that is designed to reinforce other people’s stubborn opinions. Avoid it at all costs.
- Talking is overrated.
- Sometimes what someone really needs is a punch in the mouth. But that’s assault and you’re better than that.
- You’re never too busy to appreciate Nature.
- Most of the time, people are not looking out for your best interest. Look after yourself, but be good to those people anyway.
- Remember to slow down.
- There will be times when you have to be the source of your own comfort. Despite this fact, you are never alone.
- Nothing stays the same, so don’t dwell.
- Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself.
- Plan for tomorrow but SHA LA LA LA LA LIVE FOR TODAY!!