I was raised as a Hindu child in Christian America. We did not celebrate Christmas or Easter, nor the more food oriented Thanksgiving or 4th of July. Far from India, and away from the Indian centric metropolises of Orlando or Pittsburgh, even the Hindu festivals did not receive communal pomp and circumstance. The Hare Krishna farm was about as close as we could get to worship.
Yes, you can understand why a birthday was a big deal. Coming as it does in September, in the early part of the school year, I was never sure who to invite. Usually the people who came over for pizza or went out for a movie were not the girls I was talking to in January.
As an adult, and now mother, I love celebrations. We have added Christmas, Easter, New Year’s, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July to our family’s repertoire, with international travel on Eid holidays to boot.
Birthdays, however, haven’t yet been replaced in my heart. Until last week. Every few years I have a party. Same childhood dilemma but newer version: who in the expat community is still around to invite? Who will I still talk to in January?
Last weekend we had a party. No one likes the night before work (which in the GCC falls on a Saturday). Friday night. Three days before the actual day. There was dinner. Dancing. People jumping in the pool. On the whole, many 30somethings (and older) recapturing the essence of college, or trying to, as the essence of youth was floating in the air, a residue of the new semester beginning at the universities where many of us worked.
Then came Tuesday.
Midweek in the GCC (we start the week on Sunday). Everyone in the house up early, a big lifestyle shift, to accompany new schedules. No boxed gift on my pillow like in years past. Completely fine: I asked for donations to charity instead of luxury brands.
Hubs left the house in a rush, wanting to avoid traffic, without a happy birthday. And so it went. None of my students remembered until my 70 year old aunt interrupted class with a buzzing phone. She wanted to say happy birthday. Good old auntie. Somehow that call made me feel worse.
I slunk back to my office. Facebook was pinging away: Happy birthday! Hope you’re having a great one! Each virtual ping pushed me further down in my chair. You’re alone, they all seemed to say, alone, and worth only a few virtual seconds. Even worse (never say it can’t get any worse, it always can) I was getting emails from people on LinkedIn. People I had never met because LinkedIn knew it was my birthday and thought they should too. Lower and lower I sunk, opening the door now and then to answer a few student queries with wads of Kleenex on my desk.
I went to pick up the cake, chosen by our older son, a toddler, a la edible Paw Patrol characters (look it up, it’s what you think it is). The baker forgot to say happy birthday.
Sobbing in my car on the way home, safe behind my sunglasses, a realization hit me. I am not as important to anyone as I am to myself.
This may sound counterproductive but it was a breakthrough. Somewhere on the lone highway in Doha, between birthday wall post 90 and 100 on my Facebook wall, my ego caved in. I’m only important to myself. Expectations are the road to disappointment. These ideas are the essence of Zen Buddhism. They are freeing, humbling, and awakening. I’m still mulling it all over.
Suffice to say, this will be the last party for a long time. Never say never. If you don’t want your birthday ruined, here’s my advice.
1) Don’t have an early party.
2) Don’t go on Facebook.
3) Learn to sit with the quiet in yourself.