The Birthday

My birthday falls on the sixth day of Simbang Gabi Novena. So every year, it’s a tradition to start the celebration by attending the Misa de Gallo and lighting a candle, if possible.

Beyond the balloons and cake, birthdays serve as annual milestones, reminding us of the journey we’ve travelled and the growth we’ve experienced. In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, it’s all too easy to overlook the beauty that lies in acknowledging and celebrating the simple act of existence.

The early wake-up call

Waking up at three in the morning on your birthday is a strange and private experience. It’s a quiet start as I struggle to fight the temptation to push the snooze button. The serene atmosphere provides a serene backdrop for reflection before everyone wakes up to take part in the festivities.

I’d love to have that morning meditation and gratitude for another year I am blessed with. But that will have to wait. I need to continue showing up at church on time, whether I was with my mother many years ago or got a ride from a neighbour for Simbang Gabi masses in recent years.

Thanksgiving Mass

As a young child, my mother would bring me to the candle station near the church entrance and light one as a personal prayer or intention offered in the sacred space of the church. If we are lucky, we’ll find a seat at our preferred location near the right wing.

Before masses, church commentators at Immaculate Conception parish often recite a litany of names of sponsors and those who offered thanksgiving, answered prayers, or reached life milestones.

“Atong pasalamatan ang atong mga sponsors karong adlawa, ang GKK Sagrada Familia ug GKK San Jose.”

The list goes on for a full two minutes or more. Then, a familiar name was mentioned.

“Halad pasalamat sa adlaw nga natawhan ni Elmer Cagape.”

Gulp. I wasn’t expecting that, and with a surprised look, I gestured at my mother, who responded with a smile.

“Happy birthday, Mer,” she whispered as she leant towards me.

I am just not comfortable with my name being announced in front of the whole congregation, though I am obviously grateful for the blessing of another year. At this time of the season, I am more likely to join a Christmas party than host my birthday party, so I am not used to being the centre of attention. I prefer to have intimate dinners with a few people, like I used to do it with my family.

The only constant in the world is change

“Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Mark Twain

Age can be a sensitive topic for individuals, as it is often associated with societal expectations (“why are you still not married at age 35?”), personal milestones (“why are you still childless at 40?”), and physical changes (“why don’t you still have grey hair at 50?”). But it’s a common question that birthday celebrants are asked about. Unless you are dead, and hence your age hits a permanent stop, age increments signify you are still alive and should be grateful.

But your 10th birthday celebration is different from your 25th or any other year.

Over time, birthday celebrations have been associated with a melancholic nostalgia, with each milestone encapsulating a multitude of feelings and recollections. During childhood, birthday celebrations were infused with the consoling influence of a cherished grandmother, whose kind hugs and freshly baked goods left a lasting impression of joy.

Birthday parties became vibrant get-togethers with closest friends as puberty progressed, filled with joy, secrets, and youthful energy. A new chapter in life started later in life when birthdays were shared with a life partner, someone who became an essential part of the adventure.

But as time passes and grandma is gone, her chair is empty, but her spirit lives on in the treasured recollections of previous birthdays, bringing with it a melancholy undertone. This year marks the first time my mother, who used to bring me to Simbang Gabi masses as a grade schooler, is no longer around. The feeling was amplified as I took a photo of my homemade birthday lunch without the presence of my wife, Babes, who I hoped could reunite with me in time for December.

The contrast between happiness and sorrow weaves a nuanced, moving story in which every candle we blow on our birthday cake serves as a reminder of another year gone by as well as a glimmer of memory for those who once joined us in the celebration. In the soft glow of candlelight, whispered wishes dance on the brink of reality, whether carried away by a gentle exhale or suspended in the silent echoes of unfulfilled dreams, and are repurposed as our next birthday wish.

Don’t worry; change is coming, whether we like it or not. We must embrace it with an unyielding spirit, because when we embrace transformation with the correct mindset, we find the real purpose of our journey.

Checking personal values while confronting mortality

“It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it.” – Seneca

Having to face our mortality is a powerful wake-up call to consider how fleeting life is and to live each moment to the fullest. Understanding that time is the most important resource we have forces us to make the most of our relationships, follow our passions, and appreciate the beauty in the ordinary, creating a tapestry of fulfilment and purpose in the midst of life’s ephemeral moments.

Birthdays provide a poignant occasion for reflection, encouraging a review of one’s underlying principles and how well they fit with decisions made in life. It entails taking a thoughtful look at one’s core values and beliefs to determine whether one’s everyday choices and goals are consistent with these tenets. This self-examination on one’s birthday serves as a compass for guiding life in a path that genuinely reflects one’s principles, promoting a sense of fulfilment and purpose for the coming year.

Seneca’s advice can be put into practice on birthdays by reflecting for a bit, realising how fleeting life is, and seizing the chance to live life to the fullest in the upcoming year. By taking into account personal values, forging meaningful connections, and setting clear goals, birthday celebrations can serve as a catalyst for a more meaningful and purposeful life journey. To me, it’s like executing my New Year’s resolution two weeks earlier.

Looking forward to the future

In contrast to worrying about the past or the future, the stoic idea of living in the present promotes mindfulness training and emphasises the value of paying attention to and participating completely in the present moment.

When someone revisits their objectives and aspirations on their birthday, they are acknowledging that a new approach is necessary and carefully reviewing their goals for the upcoming year. If one’s goal is to learn a new language, for example, one could find it helpful to look into immersive language apps or cultural exchanges; if one’s goal is to master a musical instrument, one could try out various learning strategies or look for mentorship. The process of reflection facilitates flexibility and advancement, guaranteeing that the path to self-improvement stays exciting and rewarding.

Making intentional decisions and choices that reflect the beliefs and objectives you uphold on a daily basis is the first step towards ensuring that your actions are in line with your aspirations and values. If building healthy connections is one of your basic values, for example, you might put family time before other obligations or avoid toxic interactions.

Understanding that the journey, which is characterised by growth, learning, and resilience, is just as important as the final destination is necessary to recognise that the path towards goals holds intrinsic value and joy. It emphasises finding fulfilment in the process rather than solely fixating on the end result. For example, if my goal is to outperform my 2022 Strava performance or outnumber the trails I go, relishing the daily exercise routine and celebrating small achievements along the way becomes an integral part of deriving joy from the journey towards the larger health objective. This mindset fosters a more sustainable and enriching approach to pursuing aspirations.

Concluding reminder

We have travelled through times of solitude, treasured recollections, and the prospect of unwritten chapters in the silent contemplation of this birthday celebration. May this celebration serve as a reminder that every year is not simply a marker of ageing but also an amazing panorama of development, resiliency, and the timeless beauty found in the practice of self-celebration as we accept the bittersweet dance of nostalgia and newly discovered wisdom.

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