Yesterday was my birthday, and I decided to throw myself a party. A less-than-fully-typical type of birthday party.
A virtual party.
The invitation read:
A virtual party liberated me from the limitations of traditional bricks-n-mortar style parties — namely, time and space. I invited people from all over the country, and some from outside the country. I invited not just the folks who play active roles in my life today*. The invitation extended to people whom I knew in high school, college, or grad school. At old jobs. In old cities. People whom I know casually now but might like to know better. People whom I admire but interact with only on social media.
I’m sure I sent it to some people who don’t remember me, or at least not the way I remember them. I am sure others were just generally surprised I contacted them. Some of those people participated anyway. And many people — whether we’re close friends now or not — told me that just the process of thinking about what brought them “joy” came with its own form of happiness.
I couldn’t have hoped for anything better.
Oh, and the things people sent! From snapshots of pets to memories of friendship, from quick Facebook greetings to one person’s elaborate recording titled “44 things that bring me joy, in honor of your 44 years!” — I was moved by it all. Stories of family, of home, of that perfect peach someone ate once upon a time and never forgot. Cornball jokes, the kind you only tell when you’re not worried about impressing anyone. Favorite movies and Internet videos and songs to dance around the house to. Artwork to contemplate. Quotes to meditate on. What my friends love most in themselves. What they love most in others.
And so much, much more.
My oldest friend sent a picture from another birthday party, back (I think?) in 1985. In addition to bringing back its own flood of memories, this picture captures for me what was so wonderful about yesterday.
Kids in my high school often celebrated birthdays and other events by decorating each other’s lockers. Our sophomore year, some friends and I began a game of one-upping each other with our decorations: first somebody filled someone else’s locker with balloons. Next, I copied the balloon thing — but first I stuck a small piece of candy into each balloon, so it had to be popped to get at the peppermint or what-have-you. Next a locker got filled with crumpled paper — and the locker owner had to uncrumple it all to find any trinkets buried within. And finally, B won the whole game on Oct 5, 1985, when her dad drove her up to my house in a pickup truck carrying a refrigerator box.
A refrigerator box filled with crumpled newspaper.
Buried in the newspaper, each wrapped in its own sheet, were perhaps a dozen small presents. Pens, a novelty notepad or two, probably some make-up, and I think — from the picture — a small can of hairspray? (It was the ’80s. It was Texas. I’m sure it made sense if someone gave 15yo me a can of hairspray.) Other stuff I don’t remember. The true joy of the gift was the opening. And the opening, and the opening.
We played loud music — possibly Mozart’s Requiem, which I was waaay into at the time. I remember singing at the top of my lungs as I crawled deep inside the refrigerator box, uncrumpling each page in my search and then passing it back and out until paper filled the room around us. (I’m the one wearing the white pants — a sartorial mistake, in retrospect, considering all the newsprint — and B is the grinning face under the paper. Another friend, A, is sitting inside the box; you can just see the top of her head sticking out.) I’m not sure how clearly this comes across in the picture, but we filled a VERY LARGE SPACE with that newspaper. The better part of both the living room and the dining room, which were open to one another.
It was glorious.
Yesterday reminded me of that day, and not just because I got the photo. Receiving emails throughout the day yesterday, opening each one to find whatever piece of themselves people had chosen to share with me…I could’a blasted Mozart all day long. The whole experience was more overwhelming than even the most Overwhelming Underwear I have ever received.
Yknow what my favorite thing was, of all that people shared? A reminder about a conversation I had with someone I knew a long time ago. He told me it was his fondest memory of our friendship. I don’t remember that day at all. I am so moved that he does.
We each move through our lives like ships cutting through water, casting off waves and ripples and eddies in our wake. Some we remember; most we don’t. I feel privileged to learn how my presence in the world appears — and is remembered — by others. I hope that, of the people I asked to my virtual birthday who may not remember me in any clarity (perhaps even at all), some may find in the invitation their own reminder that they have affected others in ways and at moments lost now to their own pasts. And that they may feel as touched as I do by that fact.
I’d like to invite anyone reading this who wasn’t part of yesterday’s festivities: if you’re willing, would you too share something of joy from your own life? Plenty of ideas suggested above — or, since I suspect most of you are yourselves bloggers, perhaps you would like to leave a link in the comments back to your own blog and a post you are especially pleased with. I’d love to read the writing that you most wish to share.
Finally, since no birthday party is complete without cake, I am sending you to this video from a hedgehog’s birthday party. The tiny slice being eaten by the tiny hamster? That piece is yours.
*Obligatory shout-out to Facebook and Google, for making it possible to track all these folks down!