In the 3rd grade, I remember a friend of mine, her name was Kim. Every holiday, Kim would park herself in a corner and stare longingly over her shoulder at the rest of the class as we exchanged Valentine's Day gifts, shared birthday cake and cupcakes during a classmate's birthday, opened Christmas treats, and shared Halloween candy. Kim was a Jehovah's Witness and therefore not allowed to celebrate personal or religious holidays with the rest of the class.
One day, Mrs. Rimmer (my favorite teacher...and one hell of a name)...watched Kim's sad face...and finally walked over to her, slammed a piece of cake down on her desk and said, "You don't have to sing the songs, or play the games, or exchange gifts. But you ARE going to eat this piece of chocolate cake!"
Kim's eyes turned as big and round as the cupcakes floating around the room. And with gusto she tore into that cake as if Mrs. Rimmer had just appeared in a burning bush and started issuing commandments.
Nikki Rimmer, once her back was to Kim, broke out into a big smile. She saw me see her smile and she smiled even wider. Winking.
I personally loved Kim because she would warn me on Friday if her Mom and the rest of the Witnesses were planning on marching down our block on Saturday. I would warn my Mom, and I would sit in the living room and wave to Kim as she walked passed with her parents. While my Mom pretended that we weren't at home.
As a kid, I learned that holidays were times for you to get your hands on as much loot as possible (whether the haul be presents or candy). BUT, since I grew up dead broke...I learned that loot was in short supply, so I had better content myself with the love, attention, and adoration of my friends and family.
By the time I was 18, I was throwing my own birthday parties, paying for all the food, and using it as a time for me to bring together the people I love to celebrate them and honor their presence in my life. For the majority of my adult life, I have asked folks to give to a worthy cause instead of buying me presents. Some people still choose to buy me gifts, and I know that for those people it is important to them to honor me with something meaningful. This year, I got a box of GOYA Sazon con Azafran in the mail from my friend Crackity. For us, that was more than just a package of MSG and seasonings...it was a physical reminder of our time living together in Puerto Rico, cooking almost every meal together, wandering around the island, and sharing sex and love war wounds during our time together. Birthdays are a time to celebrate the people you love. And, in doing so, they celebrate you back.
This year was my best birthday ever. There were no wild parties or overly drunken nights. Saturday I cooked and David baked a cake. I was with people I had me that night, met that spring, or met 12 years ago in college in Minnesota. We ate, drank wine, played games, and by 1am folks were gone, I was vomiting a little bit, and then I went to bed happy as a clam. Last night, my actual birthday, I was blessed to have a friend, Nea aka Bebe Benet, from home with me. We met up with my friend yk, Tasha and David joined us, and we were traumatized by the touring performance that included our friend Asha from Atlanta. Afterwards, a new friend, Stacy, joined us for dinner. We ate delicious tapas, laughed our asses off, had a glass of wine, and by 11pm, I was at home and in bed. I spent half of yesterday respondoing to dozens of birthday wishes on Facebook. And I felt loved, celebrated, cared for, honored, and appreciated. And I felt that I had been able to show that some love back to the people I care about that were able to spend part of my birthday with me.
I am lucky. My family has always known and demonstrated that holidays are not about the gifts. It is about the time spent with people you love...nurishing them with good food...and soaking up the love and care to help keep and hold you through the next year of your life.
Thank you to everyone that shared my birthday, this year, with me.