These past few days, I’ve gotten an unusual amount of emails from people with upcoming birthdays. It seems like everyone is stuck indoors, self-quarantining, and this isn’t exactly a fun way to spend the big day. One such email comes from Abbie, who writes:
“My daughter Emma’s birthday is on Sunday. She will be turning 9. She’s a typical kid. Hates vegetables. Whines. Says ‘Mommy’ at least one thousand times a day. Usually her aunt and grandparents come over for a birthday lunch. Complete with cake and presents. Not this year.
“This year will obviously be different. I prepared for a breakdown when I explained what a global pandemic is and why we are quarantined. She just looked at me and said, ‘I understand. Can I help you make my birthday cake?’”
“I’m pretty proud of her and the little lady she has become.”
Well, on the off chance that Emma is reading this, I want to be among the first to wish her a happy 9th birthday. What a great year.
When I was 9 years old, my teacher read “Where the Red Fern Grows” aloud in class. This book became a favorite book. I hope you get to read it one day, Emma. It always makes me feel good.
Consequently, that was also the year my cousin, Ed Lee, ate three worms on a bet. He did it during a baseball game. We boys sat in the dugout watching in pure amazement. When he finished, Ed Lee had earned fourteen bucks, but he had also puked in someone’s glove.
These are the kinds of stunts my generation was famous for. This is probably why the most notable cultural contributions my generation ever made to the Greater Good were: Angry Birds, air-fryers, and Spanx.
Anyway, I know it sounds silly, but did you know that I’m jealous of you right now, Emma? It’s true. Because you’re a kid. You might not know this, but being a kid is the greatest thing you will ever get to do.
Oh, I know you probably can’t wait to be a grown-up, but did you know that most grown-ups wish they were kids again? I kid you not.
Arthritis is no joke.
So even though we don’t know each other, I’m pretty excited for you. Because this year you’ll probably learn lots of new kid-things. Like how to climb trees, sing songs, act silly, hug hard, make messes, stick up for your friends, memorize jokes, chase dogs, eat too much candy, and die of boredom while your mom is waiting in line at the DMV.
You’re also going to figure out what sorts of things make you into Emma. Everybody has things that make them who they are. Sadly, some of us don’t figure these things out until we are, well… My age.
But, hey, that’s part of the fun. Growing up means bumping into walls, trying to find your way through the Maze of Life. It means listening to the little voice inside you that says, “Wow, I draw pretty good pictures, maybe I’m an artist!” Or, “Wow, I never knew I was good at science!” Or, “Holy Toledo! Ed Lee ate a dang worm!”
What I hope most for you this year is that you feel loved. And I hope you know the joy of loving people back. I don’t mean kissy huggy romantic stuff. I’m talking about something much deeper.
Listen, I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box, and you probably shouldn’t pay attention to a guy like me, but if I could tell you one thing about the world it would be this:
Life is not that complicated. A lot of people will tell you it is, but these people are drinking their own bath water.
People will say you need lots of money, or a decent job, or the right car, or a great house, or fame… Blah, blah, blah. They’ll try to make you believe that there are lots of requirements to simply being alive. Just ignore them.
I don’t want you to think I’m saying life is easy. It’s not. People will hurt you. Friends you trust will let you down. Sometimes the bottom will fall out and you’ll start to question everything, even yourself. People you love will pass away. Sometimes you might even lose hope.
But life means figuring stuff out as you go. It isn’t a performance where you have to get it right the first time. It’s more like a giant roller skating rink.
Sometimes you fall and bruise your kneecap. Sometimes you get asked to couple-skate with a cute person. Sometimes the chili-dogs don’t agree with your lower intestinal regions.
The main thing is you’re here, skating. In fact we’re all here together, busting our shins, trying to not to trip. The idea is to laugh, dance, drink plenty of milkshakes, and help those who have fallen. Emma, I think the trick to life is learning how to have fun, even when it’s not easy. Then showing someone else how to do the same thing.
Maybe everything I just told you sounds a little too deep for your 9th birthday. But you’ll have to pardon me, Emma, when I got to thinking about how you’d be stuck at home for your party, and how bad that must feel, I just wanted you to have something special.
I know this isn’t much, but maybe one day when you’re older you’ll read this again and remember that some faceless writer stayed up late one night writing this especially for you.
Don’t forget about “Where the Red Fern Grows.”
Happy birthday, from your friend, Sean.