I want to tell you a story. It’s about this strange day, called birthday. You’ve been waiting for mine, eager to dress in your favorite velvet dress, and wear a special headband, and eat the chocolate-chocolate cake with me, and place your little hands on my face.
We now have the same digits in our ages. You and I are of the same age, only you have one number in yours, and I have two in mine. The same digit, three times between the two of us. The funny thing is, I remember my parents at this age, but I hardly remember myself at your age. When you read this, will it be the same? Will you remember me as I were today, wondering alone through the foggy streets of Manhattan, or will it be me a decade from today, the digits moving swiftly to higher altitudes?
I think this day has a secret. And it’s like this: on your birthday, you can see everything, as if someone gave you a magnifying glass that’s connected to a telescope and you can look at both ends of your life, far, far out in both directions, from the day you were a cucumber wrapped in a blanket in your mother’s hands, to the day you’ll be wrapped in your last dress, your hands cold. And you are reminded…
You are reminded that your heart can belong in several places at once, and that it often doesn’t know which place to settle in, so it drifts from one memory to another, taking you with it. You are reminded that the best love is the one shared and saved, but also the one that never happened but still wants to. They converge on this day, and you feel awash in love, in memories of what was, and what could have been. On this special day, those who truly love you step off from the locomotives of their lives, to pause and reach out, and while you no longer share their lives, or never will, the certainty of being loved is the most precious gift – because that’s all what we want, in the end.
On your birthday, they say, “May all your wishes to come true.” I wish to never stop noticing, so that twenty years from today, I could say, “Remember that day I took you to preschool in a cab, and you had two braids that I’d made in haste – one thicker than the other, and they looked so painfully precious that I thought I could die of love just looking at the back of your head,” and you’d answer, “I felt that.” Or do you remember the morning when a Dominican cab driver spoke Russian to us, because he had studied at a Moscow university 35 years earlier, and told us how he had been married to a Russian woman for 14 years, but she left him, and he missed Russia so much, so much, he had Russian radio on. You said, “Hola!” to him because you knew how.
I want to notice the bursting maroon and yellow tulips, splayed by the morning rain, nodding their heads as I walk by. I want to remember the story of a man whose daughter ate paint off the walls in their new house, because the stress of moving was unbearable to her. I want to notice the first gray in my friends’ hair, and ask them what they grief about most. Can I even ask that? I want to remember how I celebrated my birthday at 15, and 21, and 30. And I want to remember why some years I didn’t celebrate at all. I want to notice the barges on the Hudson, so that I can remember the ships on the Neva. I want to remember every morning you came to my bed, the light of your dimpled smile shining on my life, erasing the melancholy that has been living in my heart for a while now. I want to remember the poem that I received on my birthday written in my language. I’ll let you read it one day. But mostly, I want to notice the moment of being alive. And that’s why your birthday is so good for you. It makes you feel time pass and it makes you notice life. Just that. That you’re ALIVE. And that’s the story I wanted to tell you on my birthday.