Fireworks and Feelings: A Note on Celebrating
I used to believe that I wasn’t worth celebrating.
As time creeps closer to my birthday, I inevitably feel Slumpy. I’m coining this term as the 8th dwarf in my emotional repertoire. He is the illegitimate love child of Grumpy and Sleepy who is perpetually anxious and likes to sit in the corner leaking tears over his abandonment issues. As the calendar flips closer to December, you can be sure he’ll rock up to the doorstep, dump his baggage in the room and overstay his visit.
Birthdays are synonymous with celebration and nobody ever dreams of giving Slumpy an invitation to the party. But sometimes, despite the best of our abilities, he gate crashes the event. He frets over planning a party because mixing friendship groups from all different walks of life is too stressful. He sows seeds of doubts that make you wonder if anyone will show up and whether they’ll enjoy themselves. Most of all, he makes you question if you’re even worthy of a celebration.
To his credit, I don’t think Slumpy intends to be such a killjoy. Perhaps he’s even trying to protect us. “Expectation Management,” he’ll probably moan in his defense. When I look back over the years, birthdays always felt like such a disappointment. I wrote last week that a lot of weight tends to get placed on this day. We pile on the expectations for a better year. We wait for it to change us. We set deadlines and declare that this will be the year all our fantasies come true. We hope for the people we love to rally around us.
Most often, my day would end up feeling lackluster. Events would be planned and people wouldn’t make the effort to show up. If they did, the day revolved around them. Irreparable mistakes would happen- the type that hits you when you wake up the next morning and make you feel like although you’re a year older, you’re definitely not wiser. The day would end and something would feel off. A culmination of disappointing birthdays later,and you can’t blame Slumpy for believing that you aren’t worth showing up for and don’t deserve to be celebrated.
A year ago, he showed up again in the weeks before my 21st birthday. I was studying in England at the time and given free reign to jump from country to country. This sounds like a perfect combination for a birthday, except for the fact that my flatmates and I were slammed with last minute assignments and no one felt up to planning a party. Like a long-awaited heir to the throne, society places 21 on a pedestal and heralds it as the year of adulthood. I had hoped to usher in the year with a bang and alongside the people I loved. Yet, being isolated from my community back home and a frantic rush to finish essays meant nothing special was going to happen this year either.
This sentiment was echoed back to me later that week when my friend’s workmate from Melbourne decided to visit our flat before his travels. Incidentally, it was his birthday the day we met and we were plus ones to a party hosted by the Surf Society. Amongst the cheers and loud music in the background, and drawn together by the fact we didn’t know anyone else, I asked him how his birthday was going.
“It’s…not exactly what I thought it’d be,” he said hesitantly. “I keep waiting to feel different. Like, I know I should be happy to be here and I’m waiting for it to hit me. But it doesn’t feel like a big deal.” The crestfallen expression on his face said it all. Silence hung in the air between us and all I could say was, “I know.”
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably spent most of your life waiting on the big things. I used to be all over the idea of grand gestures, like surprise parties or fireworks that light up the sky or intense feelings that slam into you to let you know this person’s ‘the one.’ I’m so expectant of the big things that anything smaller makes me question whether it’s right and I wonder why it always feels like there’s something missing.
The problem with always looking up at the sky and waiting for the fireworks is that you miss out on what’s right in front of you. While your head is craned up towards the sky, you miss out on the people that are trying to celebrate you in their own way. You miss out on the magic of a slow burn that promises to keep flickering in the long run. Fireworks and grand gestures are an impressive spectacle, but once they fizz out you’re left with nothing but a dark sky. At the end of the day, I know I’d rather something meaningful that lasts for years to come, than something that only looks glamorous in the moment. The intimate memories created between close friends and the small, but intentional, actions are what imprints itself on your heart in the long run. That’s the golden stuff of life.
For my 21st, there was no huge party, no bar tab and no speeches that dragged on forever. Instead, my flat pulled together to rally around me at the last minute. The guys made an emergency trip to Tesco to buy a decadent cake topped with Maltesers. We laughed over the fact that cigarette lighters had to be held up instead of candles, and a single balloon found at the bottom of a show bag was inflated to celebrate me making it through the first year of my 20’s. Afterwards,we made our way into the city where I learnt how to (unsuccessfully) balance on my first mechanic bull and we danced the night away as fake snow rained down on our heads. It was the night my flatmate met his now girlfriend, and the night I got to see how time is a flimsy measure for the amount of impact we can make on others. It was a rushed, last minute affair, but it was enough. It wasn’t the big party I always imagined. But it ended up being more fulfilling than I ever thought possible.
As much as Slumpy and the rest of the dwarfs want to assert themselves and protect us, we can’t hand over the reigns to them. The story of Snow White is notable for the damsel in distress that has to rely on men and her feelings to save her from the Evil Queen. But sometimes we forget that we are the heroes of our own life and we get to choose what gets the most weight. Truth or Feelings. Fact or fiction.
Someone once told me that I’ll be celebrated when I no longer feel that desire anymore. I don’t think that’s true. I think you should absolutely desire to be celebrated. You deserve the reminder that it’s not an accident you’re here today. You’re allowed to feel sentimental and all up in your feelings like a Drake song. There are years where it’ll feel eventful and everyone is gathered round for the glitz, glam and sparkle. And there’ll be years where you’ll have to be your own sparkle. The smaller, quieter, years allow you to be your own cheerleader and learn to celebrate yourself. You’re going to have to figure out how to love on and bust out the confetti for yourself before you can ever invite anyone else to do it for you.
Learn to celebrate the small sparks on the ground instead of worshiping the fireworks. Celebrate the grueling but golden process it took for you to get here. Celebrate the fact that despite all the hardships that came your way, you made it through. One day soon, someone’s going to love every bit of the mud that transformed you into who you are today.
All this to say that if a single shred of you has ever wondered whether you are worthy of being celebrated, hear me when I say you are, you are, you are.
Irrespective of who does or doesn’t show up for you, you’re worth celebrating. Every inch of you is worth breaking out the confetti and silly string for.
Your birthday will undeniably be someone’s favourite day because it’s the day you showed up to the world ready to leave a mark on people’s hearts.
So if no one else has ever made you feel special, know that you are, you are, you are.
Dear Stevo... - Ashley Chow
[…] need a guy called Stevo to prompt us into action. This letter eventually turned into this official post about my birthday last […]