This is my birthday week.
Anyone who knows me well knows I love birthdays — not just the festivity of my own but any chance to celebrate and affirm those I hold dear.
I enjoy making a fuss over friends and family, whether it’s leaving a singing voicemail brimming with wishes for their happiness, picking out a gift I can’t wait to deliver or spending cherished time in their company as they mark another year. I relish the arrival of my birthday with perhaps even greater zeal, feeling a gathering of energy at the beginning of each March, as if some magic is being brewed just for me the moment February takes its leave. I welcome every opportunity to be toasted, large or small, to reflect on where I’ve been and look to the wide open future, shimmering with the brilliance of all the hopes and blessings a birthday brings. And rather than sit back and wait for all the fun and merriment, I always orchestrate a little of my own.
This year feels different. While I did greet March with anticipation, charged with that jolt of electric wonder I experience every year, I have since settled into an uncharacteristic quiet. Two weeks ago, friends who had been at a birthday dinner last year — held at a fabulous Burmese restaurant in the city — asked what my plans were for this weekend, wanting to be there for the celebrations it appeared I would inevitably organize. But I had nothing on the calendar to share and couldn’t even commit to the idea that a plan may be forthcoming.
Of course, last year was a milestone birthday and I don’t expect every one to be attended by the kind of revelry that went on for what seemed like several weeks. But this is not post-milestone ambivalence or even the diminished joy some feel with every birthday as they get older.
This is me taking a break from the rambling panoply of my life. From always searching for or gearing up for the next big thing. From thriving on the technicolor swaths of adventure and novel experiences stitched into every year.
I tend to fly by the seat of my joy, freewheeling into whatever sparks its vibrancy. It’s not a bad approach to life and one that I would never completely abandon. That kind of energy and zest are intrinsic to who I am.
But I do find myself wanting to press pause, to allow more space to be present to what’s in front of me — the small pleasures of daily life, the beauty of my own environment, the connections that feed me over a simple cup of coffee or a walk in the park.
Perhaps I am still making my way through the contemplative cocoon of leaving Tanzania last summer, after years of dreaming of such a trip. When I returned home, I knew I would go back — knew it even the day I first set foot in Arusha in a surreal fog of jet lag and soul-deep happiness. And I planned to make that journey this year, began plotting the hows and whens almost as soon as I got back, hungry to see all those sweet faces at the orphanages where I volunteered before they somehow disappeared into another life or before time could steal what few memories we’d made.
But it is a long and expensive trip. I have limited vacation and there are other requests for my time that I neglected last year in the all-consuming fervor of making my pilgrimage.
2015 was a big year for me. The momentum carrying me toward Africa shaped much of the year before that (along with my forays into the dating world after leaving a long-term relationship). Then when 2015 finally arrived, it seemed the first half was spent preparing for my amazing journey and the last half processing all I’d experienced while trying to find my footing in a suddenly re-arranged familiar. In the midst of all of that, I started a new job and then left it to embark on yet another career path.
Two months into that second job, I am realizing all the external shifts that have taken place in the last year. If I’m approaching my birthday from a place of greater quiet and reflection, it’s because that’s what I’m craving — the time and space to catch up, internally, with where my life is leading me.
In December, when I shared with a fellow wedding officiant who’d just returned from a silent retreat that I’d been drawn to the idea for some time, he said he saw me as an explorer. Such retreats, he explained, facilitated exploration within, often at deeper levels than one thought possible.
I have yet to look into such a getaway but I am seeking silence, or at the very least the solitude of my own company, where I can. I admit I’m sometimes struck by just how atypical that desire is, as I try to pare back a calendar I’m tempted to cram with activity. But even the fact that I got sick with whatever bug happens to be going around just days before my birthday seems a reminder to slow down.
And so there will be no wild fanfare on the big day. No flitting from one festive moment to the next. I will still celebrate over the next week or two with the people I love.
But on my birthday, I plan to treat myself to a day of simplicity, savoring what brings me easy contentment, and keeps me attuned to a deeper, gentler rhythm so that I may hear the whispers my heart wants to speak.