Celebrating Life During a Worldwide Quarantine
I have always been notorious for being difficult on my birthday. I love attention, but I hate attention that is mandated. On your birthday, people feel like they have to be nice. There is nothing you’ve done to achieve it except being born. Other Aries understand this. If you have not earned people’s praise, it is not to be trusted.
Usually on my birthday I duck office cupcake parties like they are the plague (sorry for the untimely simile), and I am nasty and hostile to people who try to do nice things for me. Then at the end of the day, I am hurt nobody did much for my birthday. I’m pretty sure this personality quirk broke up my first relationship. And now I notice my husband Saul gets visibly anxious around mid-March. I don’t think it’s the only Ides he is bewaring of.
But how the hell does one prepare for this year?
When this quarantine began, there was a spirit of adventure among everyone.
Zoom meetings? Yea!
I’m going to wear sweats and gain weight eating whatever I want!! Wee!
But as this goes on for the foreseeable future, a new feeling seems to be creeping in..at least for me. And I think that feeling is grief.
It’s not just for the loss of actual lives. There is that. But it’s also the loss of everyday habits and routines and, most of all, the loss of contact with people.
That has a big revelation for someone who is an introvert at heart.
I miss things like my daily coffee break —no matter what—with my dear friend and coworker Sara. It’s the one moment in our often-hectic workday that we guard with our lives. We walk a block to get coffee or tea and check in on each other. When we began this ritual ten years ago, we often worried about whether we’d ever stop dating the wrong guys and getting our hopes dashed. Now we are both married to good guys, and Sara has two wonderful kids.
And I miss my friends Jose and Will and our frequent forays to Broadway. Everyone has that thing they spend more money on that they should– sports events or shoes or tigers—our thing is Broadway shows. I have also lured Saul into this thespian cult. It took him awhile to drink the Bernadette-Peters-flavored Kool-Aid, but he finally (though still reluctantly) sips it. I even miss our drives into NYC to see a play with Saul grouchily predicting that it is going to be awful and boring. He does this before every single play even though he is wrong at least 8 times of 10. (Saul will dispute this but it’s my birthday, so you have to take my side).
I miss weekend gatherings with friends’ even though I always got terrible social anxiety before each and every one.
I DON’T miss riding a crowded bus to work. Check back with me on that one in a few months.
Like many people, I’m no stranger to birthday grief. I remember the sharp pain of my first birthday after I lost my big sister. I still can’t believe I’ve now experienced more years of life than she did. And there were so many others where I beat myself up because I still was single or hadn’t written that book or had no money or was floundering in my career. Birthdays felt like a report card on my life instead of a celebration of life itself.
On top of all that, I was superstitious. I had read Shirley McLane meditated on the exact hour of her birth each year and set her intentions for the 365 days ahead. One time she envisioned winning an Academy Award and she did! Since reading that, I’ve doggedly got up for the exact hour of my birth (6:20 AM) and meditated and set intentions for my coming year. When I moved to LA I got up and drove an hour and a half to the ocean making sure to be sitting on the beach at that exact magic 6:20 AM hour. I set some awesome intentions that year. I was going to make Shirley look like an underachiever! Then I realized that since I was born in Ohio and I was sitting on a west coast beach with a three-hour time change, I actually should have been there at 3:20 AM. I had missed the magic hour completely and the sand in my underwear was all for naught.
This year I’m back in the right time zone but somehow missed my appointed intention-setting time again. I basically had one thing to do today—get up at 6:15—but somehow set my phone alarm wrong.
So even though I probably missed my chance, I will tell you what my intention was for the year.
ENJOY HUMAN CONTACT— even though it is messy and irritating and unpredictable and anxiety-inducing.
Enjoy the run-ins and the scuffles and the people sitting too close and doing all the wrong things.
Enjoy the hand-holding and the hugs and the bemused smiles as people look in my eyes, and the small kindnesses and the holding of doors and the picking up of something I dropped.
Enjoy the idle gossip and the laughing together at the absurdity of it all.
Enjoy people taking bites of my food and chewing too loudly too close to me and people interrupting me when I’m trying to write (like my husband just did a few minutes ago).
Enjoy it all.
Okay…I got carried away.
NO ONE has to enjoy people chewing too loudly. We are not animals. We must still maintain a civilized society.
But other than that, this is my birthday wish. Even if I will still have to take breaks from socializing every once in a while to recharge, and even though I am pretty sure I will still get that familiar anxiety once I’m out and about in the world again, I want fully to enjoy as much as I possibly can the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of sharing this planet with other glorious human beings
ABOUT THE AUTOR: Keith Hoffman was going to win the Pulitzer Prize this year, but he overslept this morning.