How celebrating birthdays (and wearing crowns) can help us access the wisdom to know where to go and the courage to show up for it
Last month I celebrated my birthday. And if you know me, you know that I love birthdays and celebrating them even more. I don’t wait around for anyone else to figure out what to do for my day, I take the pressure off everyone else and declare my needs. It always involves friends and food and of course cake (or cakes) is a must!
Sometimes there is travel, sometimes not. Last year I was thrilled when a friend jokingly gave me a bottle of red wine with a roll of toilet paper on top! This was at the beginning of the lockdown and do you remember the run on toilet paper?! A little humor can go a long way. It’s never about the presents, it’s about being celebrated — and celebrating this gift of life.
This year I went back into New York City with a couple of girlfriends for a fabulous lunch — something none of us had done in over a year. And besides the cuisine, we wanted to touch base with our city, to see how she was hanging in there. Life had been hard on her. So, on a glorious spring morning, we loaded into my car and headed down the highway. The further south we got, the more flowering tree blossoms were in bloom. Spring had sprung.
When we first stepped out of the parking garage downtown near Washington Park, we were all astounded by how quiet the city was.
One friend said, “It feels like it’s 6 AM on a Sunday morning.” It was odd, yet there was something so gentle, tender and actually quite vulnerable about it as well. As we perused the streets, weaving in and out from block to block making our way towards Soho, three out of four stores we passed were closed…permanently, collateral pandemic damage. It was jarring to see. The typical assault of sound, almost a whisper — no usual sensory overload. She was subdued…devoid of hustle and bustle, sirens and aggressive drivers and horns honking.
But don’t count that city out…no way no how. She will rise. She’s done it before, she’ll do it again. In fact, ingenuity was alive and well as restauranteurs hold on by a thread. The streets are quieter because they are lined with outdoor dining rooms, innovative temporary structures creating private spaces for diners. Usually when I head to the city, I look to be inspired by museums, galleries, fashion, food…but on this day, it was the resilience of these business owners to rise yet again from the ashes of their circumstances. And as we walked about the city that glorious afternoon, we were consumed with taking pictures of these structures…”Oh, look at this one…that one is amazing!”
But there is something else I want to share with you about that day — you see this birthday crown in the picture…I wore it throughout New York City all day long, not because I needed attention.
I wore it to have fun and to be silly. I wore it to remind others that it is not only OK to celebrate self, it is a great privilege. I also wore it to connect with other human beings after a period of great disconnect.
And an amazing thing ensued because of it…all day long. The minute I stepped out of the car and handed the parking attendant my keys, I reached back in and grabbed my crown and arranged it on my head. Immediately, he smiled and said, “Happy Birthday!” It became a social experiment of sorts. For more than a year, faces and expressions have been hidden behind masks. People have been disconnected, hidden at home and when out — finding themselves briskly rushing by one another. For someone like me, who wears prescription sunglasses — when I’m out of the street you can’t tell if I’m smiling or crying…it’s all disguised.
As I walked down the street donning my card store crown, people laughed, they smiled, they wished me “Happy Birthday,” they screamed out to me from across the street — young and old, they toasted me from restaurants and bars as I walked by, they told me things like, “It’s my mother’s birthday too.”
Bottom line: It was a social experiment in connection. People want out. They want to communicate. They want to feel connected. They want to smile. My crown gave them a pathway and my friends walking with me all day marveled at it.
On the way back to the car late that afternoon, the park almost felt normal with the return of some street artists and live music. One jazz musician even gave me a quick birthday serenade. See what I would’ve missed out on had I not been wearing my crown?! Things felt like they were coming alive again…which is the great metaphor of spring.
Earlier that morning when I woke up, my eyes were unusually puffy and irritated with allergies. Initially, it bummed me out…not on my birthday I whined to myself. But yes, on my birthday. I still carried on primping for my day ahead trying to apply eye makeup to cover it up — taking a long look in the mirror at the face I didn’t really recognize. Sometimes it is shocking to catch a glance of myself — who is this person? She doesn’t look the way she feels. Translation: who is this old lady? Ha. And while much has changed in my physical self, I am also reminded of how grateful I am to this powerful, strong body that has birthed a baby, remains unmedicated and is healthy and resilient, who has traveled through many chapters of life. That is something to wear a crown about.
A birthday is an honor.
It’s not about how many candles are on the cake, it is about recognizing the privilege of being given another year to become even more of yourself…your Best Self. I’m beginning to realize that I don’t have forever to do the things I want to do…so, I’m doing them. I say prayers of gratitude every day for having ten times more inspiration in my head than I will ever have the time to initiate. I’m grateful to be alive and to feel enlivened. That is what a birthday is to me — a new year’s celebration of thanks and vision.
For the first time as I was blowing out my candles, I wasn’t asking for anything tangible. I was simply asking for the bravery to be ME — for the wisdom to know where to serve and the courage to show up for it.
As I recently posted on my social media feeds, we have an Aries birthday parade in this house. Literally everyone, including the puppy, has an Aries birthday — so, it’s been a season of celebration that has just come to a close. Let’s just say that we do birthday well around here. That said, we all certainly have our own ways of going about that…and I was the only one who wore a crown (actually that’s not completely true, our pup Zoey had a backyard birthday party too). But even within our own ways, we each celebrate life.
Even if you don’t want to try my crown-wearing experiment (which I highly recommend), I want you to find a way to connect to celebrating your new year when your special day rolls around — and maybe approach this glorious holiday dedicated to YOU differently. I have friends who brush off their birthdays, don’t want anyone to know about it and would rather die than wear a crown through NYC for a day. Clearly, there is no one way to do anything, least of all celebrate — but I wouldn’t knock it unless you’ve given it a whirl. Try letting your guard down, letting go of your ego and all the ways you think you ‘should’ be showing up in the world. Listen to what the inner voice whispers to you…she just wants you to allow more YOUness to emerge. She’s there waiting…are you ready to let her out…and give her a crown? You many just reconnect with an old part of yourself, long forgotten. My inner self is much more fun and I’m really glad I invited her to this party. Remember to put her on your party invite list.
I’d love to know how you celebrate birthdays…do you don your crown or prefer sinking into the wallpaper unnoticed? What would it mean to you to wear a crown (real or imagined)…is there a part of you asking for the wisdom of direction and the courage to show up? What are you wishing for when you blow out your birthday candles? Please share with us in the comments below.