On the morning of my 18th birthday, I woke up to find four strangers sleeping on the floor of my room.
My other roommates were unperturbed by the sleeping strangers, but I was perplexed. What was going on?
A few minutes after I had awoken, one of the strangers stirred and saw that I was staring at him with a puzzled look. He hurriedly got off the floor, woke up the rest of the room, and headed down the hall. He returned a minute later with seven friends of mine, each one wiping the sleep from their eyes. They joined the six sleepy people in my room (three roommates, three strangers) in a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” before they all told me to go back to sleep so that they could get some more rest.
That’s when I noticed it was only 6am.
The strangers were easily explained: they were alumni who had graduated last year and had come to visit. When they heard that it was my birthday, they thought it would be fun to surprise me when I woke up. Of course, they didn’t expect to wake up so early.
Classes were canceled that day because of a previously-scheduled series of workshops for all students that ran for half the day. After the workshops, I spent some time in my kayak out on the Juan de Fuca Strait. The rest of the day was spent celebrating and partying — and then, as I later learned was customary, by being thrown into Pedder Bay (in clothes, unexpectedly) at midnight.
I went to sleep that night feeling cold and wet, but incredibly loved.
Last week, I celebrated my 28th birthday. There were no strangers in my apartment when I woke up, no rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday” at 6am. Work was not canceled, and I did not spend the afternoon in a kayak on the Pacific Ocean. I went home relatively early after going out with some friends (there was no partying into the night), and I was not thrown into the ocean at any time.
Despite all that, I went to sleep that night last week feeling incredibly loved.
Thank you. Thank you to everyone that made me feel incredibly loved through emails, tweets, Facebook messages, phone calls, text messages, letters, cards, office parties and hugs.
And thank you, as always, to T, whose birthday emails every year I look forward to most. From her email this year:
To someone I love and respect
To someone I think has enormous potential
To someone I am so glad that I count as a friend
To someone that has made a contribution beyond what he realizes.
Last Tuesday may not have been as epic as my 18th birthday, but I’ve realized, a decade later, that the best way to celebrate a birthday is knowing that there are people out there that love and care for you.
And that it’s not really fun to go to bed while cold and wet.