I was born on Good Friday. The day we remember Jesus’ crucifixion , which is tied to the lunar calendar. My birthday remains the same Gregorian calendar date every year. Easter eggs and Palm Sunday processions sometimes appeared before, on or after my birthday which was confusing as a child. Nowadays the shops begin stocking Easter eggs on the 15th of February, because everyone knows that the Saints need fixed dates. Even Jesus gets a Gregorian birth date that makes Him slightly older or younger each time we mark his death and resurrection. I wonder if He concerns himself with these details or does he just focus on the big picture and spreading the love. If He isn’t too fussed, then why should any of us make a big deal out of the day that we were born?

As I approach half a century of being alive, I’m disinclined to become preoccupied with birthday excitement, favouring a general denial of my own ageing. I’d advise you to avoid selfies and mirrors in general and to use reading glasses only for reading and not for studying the outward signs of your progressive ageing. Getting older is the price that we pay for living. Grey hairs, wrinkles and soft skin are a badge of honour for everyone who makes it through the stages in between. Especially the teenage years. Especially the early months of parenthood. Seriously, we must acknowledge every single day, carpe that diem, living each breath as if that’s how we would want to be remembered when we are gone.

Striving for a meaningful existence, we feel guilty for engaging others electronically because we know that real life connections, eye contact and physical touch are so much more rewarding. Living minute by minute and staying rooted in the gift of right now. Switch off the laptop and put down the phone. Bzzzz: the SMS fast food birthday discount…social media doesn’t miss a beat on your birthday. Facebook suggests setting up a birthday fundraiser because even charity is a capitalist opportunity to a well-run business. Social media is justified by its users, even moreso given the global Covid pandemic and its consequent forced isolation with friends and family scattered further afield than ever before. We hold onto our messages and voice notes, recognising just how lucky we are to still have such special people in our lives and how grateful we are for a faster fibre connection. Before we know it, half a day has passed and we have barely greeted the people actually living in our house. On our birthday, a sense of anxiety creeps in, unread messages, maybe a few blue ticks…wondering whether I really need to acknowledge a balloon GIF with the same enthusiasm as a handmade card? My cellphone battery is as drained as I am, and it’s not even lunchtime.

Birthday presents are swapped out for birthday presence as we leave childhood. We value memorable experiences with great people over objects. What would you wish for in a surprise gift? Conventional protocol dictates spa days, jewellery or luxury items. All I would ask for is time.The most precious gift of all. Just hold my mental load and give me time to do anything I feel like, without clouding my brain with the constant worry of random duties and unfinished tasks. Upcoming events. Timetables and times tables. To let go of this for one day of the year is an absolute treat. That’s the plan, on my birthday, except first I wake at 4.15 and take my daughter to morning training. I squeeze in a run at sunrise, because that’s really what I want to do. Then I drive the boys to school. My phone is vibrating and pinging as I go. I meet a friend for an overdue catch-up, trying to stay focused only on our conversation. I Try not to refer to my phone, or check the time, because I am striving to be in the moment: right here, right now. I acknowledge my new phase of maturity. I am mastering the art of being present. Or is it presenteeism? After all, I am over thinking the moment, zooming out of our conversation and contemplating whether my companion can see that I’m not fully present and only appear to be all there.

Birthdays. Is there a rule book? Who decided on the instructions for parties and other birthday events? Stock-photo storybook birthdays are filled with joy and happiness, treats, alcohol and excess. We must not forget our manners, even if we didn’t ask for and don’t appreciate any of any of it. My spoil is not your spoil. Some of us don’t like cake, noise, or groups of people even if they are the ones that we like most. It can all be too much. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to. We arrive in the world, crying. On my birthday I still want to cry. Feelings of grief washi over me and I remember loved ones that are no longer here to celebrate with me. I am confronted with my own mortality and marking the time that is passing too fast.

I am a creature of habit and even then, I find birthdays alarmingly unpredictable. I am inundated with human contact and being an introvert I keep this interaction managed at a comfortable level for the rest of the year. It isn’t that I dislike all of the attention, but I know in advance that I will tie myself into knots trying to give everyone a charming response because I do love these people. Even though I’m feeling empty I want to be liked. I want people to think that they cheered me up and that their message made my day. The irony is that forcing on my mask and doing the warm and fuzzy “love back” at all of my friends, the warmer and fuzzier I truly begin to feel. I relax, loosen up, and allow myself to be loved, as I am. I manage to articulate some complex emotions and realise that these people actually expect less from me than I think. I am, of course, acutely aware that I sound like the birthday Grinch. Every passing year, I feel the same grudging obligation. I must acknowledge this event, make it special and show my best side. The reality is more complex. Often, I reflect that I would probably have a much better time of things if I actually tied my special day to a lunar calendar, or to a seasonal weather system. I was born in Spring in the United Kingdom which always made me feel energised and uplifted. In South Africa we are heading into Autumn and I am preparing for extra layers and hibernation. My official birth date was good, but for the record, this year, I had a superb day on Good Friday. A ‘birthday’ with zero pressure, and all of the unexpected love and gratitude for my life.

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