I love birthdays. Mine. Others’. I love wrapping gifts. I love unwrapping gifts.
I love celebrating the lives of people I love. I love that we live in a world where each person gets a day.
Here’s what I don’t love about birthdays: we dread them because we see them as a sign we’re growing older. And though there’s a Snapple cap floating out there, reminding us that growing older is a privilege denied to many, we still regret them. We wish we were still 21. Or 17. Or 12. Or 5. “Life was easier then.”
And today, at twenty-three, I’ve seen and felt too many tears fall down my face, fall down the faces of people I love.
Because today, at twenty-three, there is a friend reaching out to hug me as she absentmindedly stares out the window. And a cross of confliction hits her features as she’s reminded of the world so beautiful while her own heart breaks in two. Then four. Then Sixteen. Until it’s in too many smithereens for even the mathematical experts to keep up with.
And so I take her into my arms, a lifeboat trying to assure she doesn’t have to drown.
And her body follows her heart’s lead and it, too, breaks. And my arms are no longer a lifeboat but instead glue sticking her pieces back together.
And she falls to the floor, becoming a mish-mashed puzzle and we can all help turn over her pieces—face side up—as she tries to right herself. But one million piece puzzles are too hard to complete, and in the end, the picture is different than when the jigsaw began.
She stands back up. She was a canvas covered in black and blue and mixtures of gray that make us sad to see. And she’s picking up the brushes and herself off the ground, and she’s buying yellow, orange, and every shade of pink. And she’s covering the ugly pieces, wanting to make something beautiful.
In that moment though, she is a sad friend and a boy who was supposed to love her forever stopped. And I hate this. More than growing older or cooked mushrooms, I hate this. Because how terrible it is that we live in a world where everything breaks even the people.
How terrible it is that we live in a world where people fall apart on doorsteps and in closets and on bathroom floors. How terrible it is that we live in a world where people forget they have people. People that love them, want them, need them.
How terrible it is that we live in a world where people are breaking people.
That we see each new year as a chance to re-do ourselves, to paint over our ugly bits.
That we drown our sorrows or starve them away. That we regret growing older because we haven’t lived as much as the girl riding elephants on our Instagram feed.
That we spend money on eye pencils and juice cleanses because it seems like the easiest way to keep from being broken, to keep from showing off our brokenness.
And how terrible it is that at the end of falling apart in someone’s arms, we have no choice but to shuffle our pieces back together, to walk to the door, to time travel back to real life, because a new day, then year, is waiting.
Life may be short.
But life is a lot of other things.
It is beautiful.
It is fragile.
It is sometimes so big we get lost.
It is sometimes so small we hold it in the palm of our hands and smile.
It is full of laughter.
Laughter that is matched with tears.
And it is filled with best friends. And boyfriends.
And broken hearts and sticky tack and an unending puzzle of putting yourself together again.
It is family and cranky cats and parents that tell the grocery store clerk, “It’s all together.” It is siblings who call you when you have tears in your voice and stay on the line until you have a headache from laughing.
It is birthdays.
It is growing older.
It is lifeboats saving us when we think we could drown.
It’s blowing out candles and wishing for better days ahead and being thankful for the beautiful days behind.
Life is everything and anything, but it is not simply short.
Because it’s about squeezing the hands of the people around you, celebrating each other. Birthday or not. New year or not. Face paint and puzzles and glue. Or not.