Zia Hassan


Today’s my 34th birthday. I’ve discovered, especially in recent years, that my relationship with birthdays is complicated.

On my birthday as a kid, sometimes it felt like time stopped. It was a normal day for everyone else, but for me, it was a revelation. I’d notice details that I didn’t see on other days, and words people said to me meant more. There are certain stories and situations that are fairly mundane that I remember from birthdays when I was a kid.

Birthdays always meant surprise. My mom is a classic surprise artist so there would be always be some treat that I wasn’t expecting and didn’t even knew I wanted waiting for me when I got home from school or wherever. Birthday parties were always unique and interesting: I remember we went to a real-life dollhouse once. Another time it was McDonald’s – believe it or not, they do birthdays there, or at least they used to. We’d take a tour of their kitchen. Superstar Studios allowed us to record music videos to a green screen.

And then my first birthday as an adult, when I was a senior in high school, my parents wrote me a really heartfelt card and I cried. I remember thinking it was such a big transition, that I was now technically an adult. Little did I know it would take several more birthdays (about a decade or so of birthdays) for me to actually feel like an adult.

There was, of course, my epic 21st birthday that was strange, surreal, uncomfortable, and wholesome somehow, all at the same time. It’s a story for another post.

When I turned 30, I met up with some friends at a bar for margaritas (which is my birthday drink of choice). It was at an interesting point in my life where I had many different active friendships, and seeing them all in the same room was pretty incredible. What was more incredible was seeing wonderful friends meet other wonderful friends for the first time, falling in love with them the way I did initially.

At 31, I wanted to see as many people as possible, so my wife arranged four events over the course of one day. In the morning, my family (uncles, aunts, cousins and immediate) met at a diner. Some high school friends also joined for this. We then moved on to go ice skating with our friends who have kids. It was cold but fun. After that, we went to margaritas at a Mexican place (see age 30) with all of my teacher friends (and a few friends from college). Followed by hookah at a local hookah bar with my core group of high school friends. I remember that day I felt the most content I’d felt in a very long time.

Yesterday was as fulfilling as ever – obviously, Margaritas were involved, but also amazing friends that I hadn’t seen in a long time. It feels amazing to have so many close relationships, but not in the context of popularity. It’s just that with every single friend I have, there’s a connection that is created over something, whether that’s music or films or food or quirks. And to have so many unique and interesting connections to people is a true mitzvah.

Funny, I set out to write a post about my complicated relationship with birthdays. About how I always feel melancholy, like I’m growing up too fast or like the last year went by in a flash. That it feels weird to assign meaning to the day I was born. And to be honest, many of my 34 birthdays have been like that.

But looking back over what I’ve written, it seems that the good ones have bubbled to the top. And perhaps that’s the magic of birthdays. They come and go, some contain moments of elevation and some are somewhat forgettable… but every year on March 4th, the air just feels different for a day. And I am filled with a sense of wonder, for whatever reason. It’s inexplicable and I will probably break the spell by writing about it.

The funny thing is that I am really bad with other people’s birthdays. I forget or I feel like I’m just joining the HBD chorus on Facebook. When I was a teacher, I was horrible about keeping track of my students’ birthdays, and now having written about the magic of birthdays as a child, I’m now drafting a unique system for myself to celebrate people on their day.

Because we all deserve a celebration. We all deserve the best people in our lives in one room. We all deserve to watch them interact and mingle with each other, little extensions of our interests and passions finding new connections over drinks and cake.

Even if it is a somewhat superfluous cultural tradition, we all deserve birthdays.