Yesterday, I turned 27 on the 27th. The golden birthday. It also, coincidentally, was my very last birthday as Emily Schmitt. I’m getting married in July, and I am going to be Emily Baroz. I’m very excited about this. I want to be Emily Baroz.
But I’ve liked being Emily Schmitt a lot. It’s the name I share with my parents, who I’m very close with. It’s the name on my high school and college diplomas, where all my greatest memories were made. It’s the name my friends, most of whom have known me longer than my fiancé, most associate with me.
It was my mom who first brought it up to me, casually, as if it were changing my hair color. (Which I NEVER do, by the way.) “Today is your last birthday as Emily Schmitt!” She chirped. “I’m so excited about that!” I sang back.
And I was.
About midway through the day, I started feeling sad. Not deeply sad. Sort of a vague, barely there, dull feeling. I pushed it down, because, well, it was my birthday, and one thing you’re definitely not supposed to be on your birthday is sad.
Quick background: for reasons ranging from petty to frustrating to I-don’t-remember, I have cried on four out of my last five birthdays. Not a statistic I was particularly happy about. But grad school is over, and I have a job, and my partner is no longer working out of state, so I was determined that this year that was absolutely not going to happen. (As everyone knows, the best way to avoid crying is to tell yourself you’re not going to cry.)
As the day went on, it only got worse. I started to feel downright depressed. Why? ON MY BIRTHDAY. Don’t get me wrong, I loved being wished a happy birthday. I enjoyed the well-wishes on Facebook and the cheerful texts and calls. But there were just so many of them, and it was getting overwhelming. They wanted me to be happy, I wanted to be happy, nothing was wrong, and I just could not be happy. It started to feel like a sort of macabre funhouse situation.
So I did the logical thing and got mad at birthdays. I even went so far as to question the entire concept of a birthday. People shouldn’t celebrate themselves, I reasoned. I thought about girls in college who used to celebrate their “birthday month,” and I was disgusted. (This always annoyed me, but now I was obsessing.) I went so far as to question the moral validity of birthdays. Why do Christians celebrate birthday’s? I thought. If life begins at conception, what difference does it make when you were born? The whole thing promotes the sin of vanity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have it right for sure…
To clarify, it wasn’t a bad birthday. It was a really nice birthday. I had a great time at an improv show my friend was in. Another friend bought me a bottle of red wine and Chipotle. We went to a bar and got the coveted half-inside-half-outside-seats. Then we started drinking. And I started running my mouth.
I dug in on my somewhat-newly-formed philosophy about “Birthday Culture.” My prime example was a woman from a previous job who- let’s just say- made a big deal of her birthday. To me, a comically big deal. I told what I thought was a ridiculously amusing story of an adult who was obsessed with her own birthday for weeks. Repeat: I thought I was being funny.
It wasn’t until later in the night when I found out that some of the people there had been less than amused. Thoughts ranged from “Is she okay?” to “She’s ungrateful” to much worse. One friend felt I was being racist. The woman in the story is Black. She saw me as being hyper critical of a Black woman who took the time to celebrate herself. She did not directly confront me about this- it was my birthday, after all. My fiancé told me on the way home.
Cue birthday tears. I had staved them off all day, and now here they were, on the subway, about 2 am. Fiancé was very patient with me. I could tell he felt bad. He regretted telling me my friend had been offended. He said all the right things. And I said all the typical things a White person says when they’ve been accused of racism. (It was the way she said it that hurts. If she has a problem, she should tell me to my face. Doesn’t she know who I am? Doesn’t she know I have a good heart?) But it soon became apparent, to me, and I think to him, that I was more upset than was even warranted by the comment. Sure, that was part of it, but certainly not all. This was all the stuff I had stored up all day. This was my Birthday Crisis.
Specifically, it was an identity crisis. I’m 27 now. I’m closer to thirty than twenty. I have my first job that’s totally un-theater-related. I’m changing my name. And now this. Am I even a decent person? Is Emily Baroz someone I’m going to like? To be clear, I’m not dismissing my friend’s observation. Racial judgement was probably an element in my story. I have to reflect more on that. I am certain that I was making unnecessary value judgements about someone else based on my personal emotions. This is never a good sign. Jesus had a lot to say about judgments.
Recently, I’ve been reading Marshall Rosenburg’s Nonviolent Communication. He describes moral judgement as “the tragic expressions of our own values and needs.” In other words, if what I need on my birthday is to grieve, and that need isn’t being met, I’m going to start judging those who don’t behave the way I want to behave. I’m going to start judging people who are happy on their birthday.
This is true for so many transitions: holidays, graduations, big moves. It’s especially true for the upcoming transition of my wedding. What if, I worry, my need to grieve is not supported? What if my loved ones spend my engagement and wedding trying to “fix” me? Will I, in frustration, turn into a horrific bridezilla? And, most frightening of all, will my friends and family read my desire to grieve as a sign of ambivalence about my upcoming marriage? Will they be less supportive of my marriage because of it? Will the trauma of multiple divorces make it impossible for my family to take the risk of fully supporting me during my less-than-perfect transition? Because I’m going to need their support. And, if necessary, I’ll try to push back the tears to get it. And we all know how that goes.
In the 19 hours since this event, I’ve reflected a lot. I have a lot more reflecting to do. But, for now, I’m left with the most essential Christian story: Jesus dies and there are three days of silence. Of mourning. The world stands still and everyone is just waiting, a dull sadness in their hearts. Then the Resurrection happens. Jesus is risen, but He’s different. Way different. Better. And he’s radiant and there’s joy. There’s so much joy. But he had to go into the tomb to get there.
I want to thank everyone who wished me a Happy Birthday. This promises to be a beautiful year of growth, love, and- yes- joy.