Brooke: They blaisé it’s your birthday (column)
May 27, 2016
At times, the cause for a party can seem a little flipped in our mountain world. You painted your closet — PARTY! You hiked a mountain on a manicured trail — PARTY! It's your birthday — hmm, go buy yourself a frozen pizza.
It seems stylish to invite friends over for something original — like the day you resold all your used sportswear on One Man's Junk, a local Facebook group. Accomplishments are admirable, but, just because we appreciate originality, does it mean we have to neglect all traditional celebrations?
We face a mountain-town party paradox, particularly when it comes to birthdays. Historically, birthdays evolved because people began to track time, and then they began to track age; knowing ages allowed people to link time with health issues and risks. Initially, the birthday became an annual event in which family and friends surrounded their loved one as a means to protect them from the duress of age — in humility, they lit torches to signal the gods to nurture good health for their loved one, similar to lighting candles on a cake. In a way, the pagan custom was similar to a modern day prayer for another's good health and an offering of social comfort as one embraced their new age.
Maybe birthdays feel less inspiring than the new house warming party because of the way we learned to approach them. I had a colleague once, who oozed with pride at how clever she was for having outsourced her entire birthday party plans for her best friend to her subordinate at work. We give gift cards for dinner at the Olive Garden — meant for a loved one to dine with someone else, not us (like we would be around). Maybe we grew up with two working parents, without time to show us how to get inspired for someone else's birthday; instead, discount cards were generically stockpiled in cabinet drawers, just to teach us social etiquette. If we got into the birthday spirit, maybe it was only for our own kid, and so that's what children learned — if it's not for me, why bother?
It may not be all that original, but getting enthusiastic about someone else's birthday seems to be one of the more unselfish things we could try to get right. Do you want to be the kind of person who hand-picks cards, who plans birthday celebrations for another, who makes the effort toward a personalized gift? How do you want to demonstrate your wish for someone else's good fortune in life?
We don't need to confuse wishing someone a happy new age with distinctions on the ladders of divinity. We never did anything special to earn a birthday — it's completely arbitrary, and that is part of its purity and beauty. Birthdays are a divine mark in time that no one could have pre-determined, and, just maybe, our mark in time has meaning. Sure, others' birthdays can interrupt us at inconvenient times, but they compel others toward one another, in spite of it.
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Like anything, we can exploit a birthday for something entirely original and much more self-involved, like our profits from the parking lot ski sale. But, the efforts we put into a traditional birthday celebration for another can also be profoundly inspirational, when we approach it with consciousness.
Taryn Brooke lives in Breckenridge. Her birthday is none of your business.
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