Happy Birthday!

My family is reflecting on what the holiday season means to us. It’s a beautiful time of year, and I am deeply grateful for my life and the people who have contributed to making it spectacular. At the moment, however, I’m looking back at this past year and remembering small moments that mattered. It all started with a very long birthday celebration.

I’ve been celebrating a milestone birthday. Last year at this time (a few months before my birthday), I woke up and decided that starting ‘today’, I would celebrate my birthday, and keep celebrating for a year. Looking back, these celebrations were an attempt to take a stand once and for all against feeling unseen or invisible. At the same time, I knew that there were shadows of myself that just would not fit into the life that was in front of me. Sometimes I hid core parts of myself (like my wisdom), and too often I inhabited what I thought were others’ projections of me. It prevented everyone from seeing the fullness of who I am today, and who I am becoming. Noticing these parts of myself didn’t make me doubt my impact. It didn’t make me question my success, or the relationships I’d made along the way. It did make me want to shake up my perspective to become more expansive and nuanced. I wanted to let some air in to get perspective on my own perspective. One of my ‘go to’ strategies to see previously unseen parts of myself has been to drop into a completely different context and then notice. For example, my work in China over the years has helped me immediately see and experience myself in new ways. In China, there was no discomfort in talking about skin color, or race. No one pretended it didn’t exist, so it became something I could examine out in the open. My work with Flourishing Gays has had a similar impact on me. I talked about the challenges of manifesting my masculine energy; others talked about the challenges of manifesting feminine energy. We compared notes on what it meant to be a queen and how our subcultures could learn from each other.

I decided to find a new way to flip the script at home. For those who know me, and have chuckled, but secretly enjoyed and joined in on my numerous birthday celebrations, I thank you! Every time I went out, I would tell the waiters, waitresses, conference attendees, workshop participants, and perfect strangers that it was my birthday. Small gestures of kindness made a big impact. They sang; they made beautiful cards; they gave wacky presents; they brought me free desserts. In the first few months alone, I gained 15 pounds (with a smile on my face!). Since then, I have lost most of my birthday weight, but it is worth sharing some of the moments that stood out for me. One waiter, named Justice, heard it was my milestone birthday, and even when no other staff would, stood in front of a room full of workshop attendees and trembled as he sang, ‘happy birthday!’ He pushed through his fear to acknowledge me. I did eventually let him in on my birthday truth, and he was happy to have taken part even though it wasn’t my first birthday celebration this year. A few months later, I saw him at a conference, and he asked if he could sing ‘happy birthday’ again to me. He was eager and more confident this time. He told me again that it was a great idea, and was honored to acknowledge me. For months, my friend Eileen brought me a little birthday present every time she saw me – a flower bulb, a pencil holder, a cute stack of sticky notes. “I just love this idea” she would tell me. “You are such a badass!” Some of my workshop participants would greet me every morning, and they routinely ended emails with “happy birthday!” I was humbled by the way colleagues and perfect strangers extended themselves to acknowledge another human being with such care and fanfare. I was learning to receive their acknowledgements down in my bones, and I was also seeing with new eyes how humans could and would ‘be’ with their fellow human beings. Those small moments were big moments. I often felt the sweetest, most exquisite quality of being seen and honored by courageous strangers like Justice.

The word humble comes from the Latin root ‘humus’ meaning earth, or ground. To be humble, I imagine bowing down low to the ground. This is territory where grace and gratefulness flow. It is not a point in time. There is no ‘right’ time to be grateful, or humble. Even after I stopped actively celebrating my birthday, people still wanted to give me gifts, send me a ‘happy birthday’ note, or just make sure they didn’t miss the opportunity to tell me ‘happy birthday’ today. It seems grandiose to demand acknowledgment, but to receive it by the people who sent it my way, I had to bow down low. Along the way, I began to notice that others enjoyed joining in, and appreciated the boldness I showed in declaring that I deserved to be celebrated over and over and over. Not everyone was thrilled, but many were genuinely delighted to acknowledge me and in acknowledging me, they were keeping a little acknowledgement for themselves. This year, I’ve learned about the sweetness and power in impromptu moments of shared humanity. It is a place where equality consciousness breeds and grows. I tap into this same energy when I pay the bill for the person behind me at Starbucks, or send someone a text appreciating a quality of theirs that touched me.

On a more serious note, a few months ago, a friend of mine committed suicide. He didn’t have any family. It was devastating, and I wanted to do something with my love for him. I spoke with the woman who had loved him and supported him over what I can only imagine were some tough years. I reached out to her, and by the end of the conversation, I decided to continue to reach out, but also decided to send her fresh fruit every month for a year. It was a small gesture that made a big statement. She was so grateful to receive her first delivery of pears and told me enthusiastically that she planned to make a pear tart! Every month, she will know I am with her, and perhaps will feel seen by me. I have recommitted myself to spend the time with and notice as best I can the fullest expression of the human being in front of me, and that alone has brought tears. Sometimes water flowed from their eyes, and sometimes people were deeply touched. These small acts don’t change a life, but do change someone’s day. We do have to live day by day after all.

Wherever you go this season, whoever you spend it with, in all of the rush of decorating, and parties and gift wrapping, or as you sit quietly at home, remember that today is a special day, an important day, a ‘birthday’ for someone who deserves to be seen by you. Take the time to see their humanity in the big moments and in the small moments, and create a blessing. Happy holidays… and happy birthday!