Celebrating your birthday with friends is a common enough thing. The birthday boy or girl, aka the guest of honor, sits at the head of the table and receives the well wishes of their friends. Cake is had, jokes are told, and maybe funny hats are included if you’re lucky. It’s a common enough thing, and a simple enough joy, but I myself hadn’t had a party since I was a little boy.
I recently turned 37, and in years past I’d maybe have 1 or 2 friends take me to dinner, which was great. But a party? That was the stuff of dreams. I even remember yearning for a Chuck E. Cheese day with my grade school buddies, though most years a simple gathering around chocolate cake at home with the guys would’ve been heaven.
But now this year was something special. I had a crowd celebrating with me. Friends dear to me sharing my day—and I myself was the guest of honor, the one at the head of the table. There was no need for a speech or toast from any of them—simply their presence made me feel honored. Maybe it was because a celebration for me, of all people, had been so rare that the gathering felt like great flattery. Maybe it was because my birthday had always been overshadowed by the Christmas season, so now dopamine rushed and maintained a hearty smile. Or maybe it was simply because I am loved by my friends, and they were the lens that focused a moment of time onto a spot of joy for me. That spot is an image etched into memory now, a taste of it preserved by the photo above.
I think that’s what it was, then, the joy of a birthday. It’s them.