I spent the evening before my thirty-third birthday at home, on my own, listening to some Charlie Parker and writing letters to friends. I do not write this to incite pity or sadness; the decision to stay home instead of meeting friends for an Oscar party was conscious on my part. Instead, I made a mushroom and green pepper pizza and finished the leftover ice cream in the freezer; I refilled my fountain pen with black ink (not purple, this time), lit the new candle that my dear friend Anna gave to me a few days before, and proceeded to write seven letters to my penpals, near and far.
The weekend prior to that Sunday night was spent eating delicious food and exploring Toronto culture with my aforementioned friend, Anna, who had come to visit for the weekend. L has been in Israel for the past couple of weeks, so Anna’s visit was a wonderful diversion on what would have likely been a quiet few days.
Anna left for the airport in the late afternoon on Sunday; my pre-birthday pizza and letter-writing evening began shortly after that. The decision to decompress, to spend some time on my own, to go to bed early so that I could be well-rested the next day—that decision was reflective of something important I have learned over the past few years: allowing myself to take time to rest and disconnect is vital to my physical and emotional health.
This is a realization that came with age—in my twenties, I would never skip an Oscar party and often felt antsy (and angsty) when I was home alone with no real plans—so it was perhaps fitting that I put that realization into practice before my thirty-third birthday. A night spent listening to jazz and writing letters by candlelight may seem dull, but it was just the restorative evening I needed before I entered my thirty-fourth year of life. It was the right kind of celebration for me.
My colleagues at work surprised me with a birthday cake on my birthday. It was a nice, decadent surprise for a Monday afternoon; I had spent most of the work day until then doing mostly administrative work, so the singing and sugar were a nice break from the constant staring at my screen.
Throughout my twenties, I took a day off of work on my birthday. The rationale was obvious, at least at that time: if a birthday is a day of celebration, then it should not be spent working. Most of the time, I just ended up sleeping in and running errands, but I still felt as though I had the day to myself.
Here is another thing I have learned with age: if you find value in the work that you do, spending your birthday working is a celebration in its own way. Even if your coworkers don’t surprise you with a birthday cake, a day spent making the world a better place, or even just doing something you’re good at, can be fruitful and fun, a personal celebration of sorts.
After work, I went to visit my parents and my grandmother at their home in the west end of the city. We chatted, cooked, had dinner together. My mother had bought a banana-walnut cake the night before, and we cut that cake after dinner and ate it while we drank chai and caught up on life. It was a slow, warm, quiet evening. It was the kind of celebration that I was craving this year—a birthday spent with family and loved ones, doing nothing but enjoying each others’ company and conversation.
I went to bed early again that night, and awoke feeling rested and happy. Thirty-three was feeling good, so far.
When people ask me about my birthday this year, the words I use most to describe it are quiet, relaxing, and introspective. I mean this in the best possible way: turning thirty-three reaffirmed the kinds of choices I am making in my life these days.
My birthday celebration this year was completely different than the ways I would have celebrated just a few years ago, and yet it was a perfect manifestation of who I am now and the choices I make. They reflect a growing importance on taking care of myself and the people I love, and to prioritize the things that bring me energy and vitality—especially when those things are simple, quiet, and decidedly ordinary.