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Happy birthday to me! 

| Monday, January 30, 2023

My birthday was last Saturday. It was the 19th one to date and certainly the most memorable one. I have had a complicated  past with birthdays. I have never had a birthday party. I can never seem to blow out all the candles in one quick motion. I usually do not love the cake because of excess frosting. For me, each birthday was an uncanny déjà vu, an imitated rehash of the year before. Eighteen felt like 17, 17 like 16, 16 like 15, so on and so forth until my memory fades. I offer you my standard birthday routine.  

I start the day with an obligatory breakfast bowl, consisting of an over-easy egg, home fries, onions and peppers, cheese and bacon. 

I go to school. 

I thank the few who remembered it was my birthday. I do homework. 

I eat dinner, normally Mexican food, with my family and they sing happy birthday.  

I eat a slice of cake and receive presents that were postponed a month after Christmas. 

Repeat in 365 days in perpetuity.  

I hope not to sound ungrateful—that is untrue. I am absolutely thankful for my family, who makes the effort to  celebrate every 28th of January. What I am saying is that I am conditioned to think of my birthday as an annual routine, rather than a tradition of celebrating the day of my birth. There is a distinction to be made. A routine is a reoccurring set of actions that you are compelled to complete because of habitual discipline. A tradition is also a reoccurring set of actions, but you are compelled by volition. The fact that my birthday follows a remarkably similar agenda year by year was draining the “magic” out of the day. I never felt excited to celebrate, only obligated because the calendar said so. I was further annoyed by social media. I did not have 10+ friends to throw me a surprise dinner at a chic restaurant. I did not have a  birthday sash with “Birthday Queen” embroidered in an artsy font. I did not have multiple people proclaim how they had “much love for” me on the internet, only not to include me in the first slide of photos from the dinner. I did have tacos al pastor and cookie cake, though. 

This year was my first birthday spent away from home. If it can aptly be described, I would define the day as characterized by a multitude of birthday wishes, dance practice and a rainbow unicorn-themed chocolate cake. I value every birthday wish, no matter how genuine the intention might be behind it. Even if many of the wishes came at a prompting by Snapchat, I still would like to think that at least some of the wishes came from a  sincere place as a result of our relationship or interactions.  And “some” is enough for me. Although I will not go into the  specifics of why I was present at dance practice, an activity requiring skill and coordination far beyond my pay-grade, or how I came into the possession of a unicorn cake, I will offer a few reflections. The dance practice was indicative of quality time spent with my close friends, whom I cherish even if I look ridiculous in their presence. As for the My Little Pony cake, it is difficult to convey the sense of satisfaction when I saw passersby of Stanford Hall eat slices of my birthday cake, three quarters of which I left by our rector’s door. I felt even more joyed when I cleaned up the empty box and knife speckled with cake debris and smeared with rainbow frosting. For me, this birthday celebration was just as much mine as it was for those around me.  

My 19th birthday is particularly meaningful since I gave more than received, my time, myself, my cake. There is indeed a much more gratifying satisfaction in the former than the latter. Yes, I could have easily reserved the cake for just myself or denied availability for dance practice, but I would inevitably suffer from the metaphorical stomachache of selfishness. And the  same holds true for days that are not your birthday, mind you. I do not view receiving a wish of happy birthday as an act of complete “receiving;” instead, I see it more as rewarding token of your personal dedication to a relationship. If this  distinction is not established, then your crush wishing you a happy birthday derives equal happiness in you as your high school nemesis, who constantly disrespected you and prayed on  your downfall, wishing you a happy birthday. And you know that is not true.  

This outlook toward birthdays, which admittedly took me 19 years to discover, views them as a celebration of life—the life that you successfully sustained for many years and the life you share with those around you. Despite popular belief, it is, indeed, an achievement to be able to have your birthday. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, and neither is your next birthday.  On your own special day, take time to reflect on the miracle and  blessing it is to make it that far. Avoid being lulled into the routine of self-absorption. Find time to give without counting the cost. And eat plenty of cake.  

Jonah Tran is a first-year at Notre Dame double majoring in Finance and Economics and minoring in Classics. Although fully embracing the notorious title of a “Menbroza,” he prides himself on being an Educated Young Southern Gentleman. You can contact Jonah by email at [email protected].

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