Monday, April 13, 2015

Birthdays Do Make You Feel Older

I’m not sure how strongly it comes across in my writing, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been in a funk for a while now.  For most of my time at Emory, my friends have found it quite difficult to the wipe the smile off of my face.  I smiled through my GER’s and then I smiled my way into the business school.  Much to the chagrin of the older members of my fraternity, I laughed myself all the way through pledging.  When Emory took Greek life away from me, I managed to keep grinning, despite a faltering social schedule and a less than desirable housing situation.  For the past few months, however, I’ve found smiling to be less of a habit and more of a chore.
To begin with, the trials and tribulations of being a second semester junior induce plenty of stress.  After spending four months whimsically exploring Europe, returning to a regular class schedule has been a change of pace, to say the least.  At this point, you all know how I feel about the pressures of finding a summerinternship.  Add this to the fact that when I returned to Emory in the spring, half of my friends had graduated, and another handful was overseas.  Not to mention, the disheveled remnants of what was once my fraternity are no longer substantial enough to support any type of formal event.  So, why am I telling you all of this?  I’m sure, at this point you’re tired of hearing me complain about all of my problems.  Now, finally, I think I am too.
I turned 21 this weekend.  Yes, I can now legally sit at a bar and order a beer, but let’s be honest; I’ve been doing that for a while now.  The one question that my friends and family kept asking me Saturday was if I felt older.  My initial response was obviously no.  How could I feel any differently than I did last week, just because I’ve now made it through one more calendar year?  One day couldn’t possibly have such a significant impact on my psyche.  That’s when I realized a birthday has the power to do just that.
For my birthday I got texts from aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I got Facebook posts from both people I met last week and people that I haven’t seen since elementary school.  My closest friends hugged me at Maggie’s, and so did complete strangers.  Birthdays are a unique opportunity to celebrate with new friends and reconnect with old ones.
There is no inherent significance to a birthday.  After all, age is just a number.  Saturday simply marked the 21st time that Earth has orbited the Sun since I’ve been born.  Yet, our culture has shaped the birthday as a moment of personal glorification.  Your birthday is the one time of the year that everyone is supposed to put you first.  It is a recurring reminder, an annual wake-up call that says you exist (and perhaps more importantly, that your existence matters).  The people who really care about you are always sure to reinforce that notion on your date of birth.  Whether that care is shown through a midnight phone call, or a personalized gift, or a night out on the town, your true friends will not disappoint.

So, to everyone who asked me if I felt older now that I’m 21, I changed my mind; my answer is yes.  Up until this weekend, I had begun to forget who I was, and who matters to me.  Moreover, I had begun to forget what it means to smile for no reason, a skill that I have long considered one of my strongest.  In the end, it took turning 21 to remind myself that my life is full of joys and incredible people.  A birthday may just be an arbitrary time-marker, but this year, my birthday brought me back to life.