Note: The following was written three minutes before the end of my 24th birthday.
One of the things I hadn't quite figured out was how to celebrate a birthday as an adult. When you're not close enough to your immediate family to just do the whole special homemade-to-order dinner that you've been used to for years, that is.
In college, I usually made it home for some weekend around my birthday and we had my favorite dinner -- crabmeat casserole. When I turned 21 I spent half the day doing some spec work for the editor who would end up hiring me for my first job post-college. Then that first year after college, I volunteered at a church dinner on the day I turned 22 (and, of course, ate more than my full of delicious potluck food). I still lived near my family, but I think they were all working or otherwise inescapably occupied.
The day I turned 23 -- last year -- I had to work. I managed to escape for a lunch date with my two closest cousins at my favorite restaurant (go Fazoli's!). Good food and good conversation with two of the only people who've known me since I was a young child -- that was heavenly. (The long day at work was a letdown after that.)
But when I was turning 24, I couldn't decide what to aim for. I made sure I had the day off -- I knew I didn't want to deal with work-related stress (much as I love my job) on the day I was supposed to be celebrating. But beyond that -- well, what does one do for grownup birthdays?
It's not as if it's a big deal. 24 is just 23 plus one. It's not like turning 16 or 18 or 21 or 30 or any of those other culturally significant milestones. I don't even bother with birthday cards or gifts much (though I love that my mom still gets me things! I can't wait to see what she got me, as she forgot to bring the gift over when she was last visiting).
My birthday usually serves as an opportune time for self-analysis and developing goals for the next year. (New Year's never worked that well for me. Birthdays are far better.) It's a day I don't need to spend being greeted with felicitations from every acquaintance I meet. I'm quite happy with an hour-and-a-half Skype call late at night with my siblings, for instance.
However, I did rather want to give myself the chance to enjoy the entire day. So this year, I decided to help out with another church function -- one that partly involved supervising the middle schoolers I've taken on this year -- and later having my Amiguita (young friend through Big Brothers Big Sisters) and her cousin over for a supper of pancakes and a lesson in making homemade bread.
The day was glorious.
It was a coincidence, really, that any of that took place on my birthday. But the church function took my attention off of myself for hours, and ensured everyone else's attention would also be elsewhere. My evening with my Amiguita did the same. She had never tasted honey or seen bread dough kneaded (even in a bread machine, which is what I used) or watched it rise. She'd never put peanut butter on her pancakes, either. We rectified those grievous life omissions immediately.
At first I forgot to tell people it was my birthday; then I didn't see fit to.
Both occasions highlighted how service is stretching and yet fulfilling -- how sometimes (read: more often than not) I subconsciously dread getting out there and doing something, yet once I'm doing it, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Helping at church and working hard at being a mentor for a 9-year-old are intimidating, but in retrospect they were the best ways that I could have chosen to celebrate being one year older, and hopefully wiser.
They drew me out of myself and spurred me on to pursue spiritual maturity and wisdom. And here I am, capping the night with analysis of my own behaviors and motivations throughout this day, the anniversary of my birth.
My conclusion? On birthdays, introspection is invaluable. Celebration of self is optional.