Happy birthday, Noah. I’m sorry you’re in a hospital. And I’m sorry your party is a small one.
Although if you ask me, small parties are the best way to go. Little birthdays are WAY more fun than huge parties. They are more mellow, more meaningful, with less expectations. Any older person will tell you this.
These days, of course, many kids your age have birthday parties that are miniature versions of Woodstock. Some parents throw big todos, some even hire event decorators to orchestrate party “themes.”
One family on my street, for instance, turns their kids’ birthdays into elaborate events that are on the same scale as your typical papal installation. Last year’s theme was Disney. Our neighborhood turned into an amusement park.
Cars lined the street. Kids in their Sunday best carried large gifts. There were THREE bouncy castles in the yard. Armies of dads grilled ribeyes. Loud music played. There was a magician, and one frightening middle-aged professional clown with a voice like a tuba.
I’m not being critical, Noah, but after parties like that, your average adult party will reek by comparison.
Someday you might find yourself celebrating your birthday with a flat tire, stuck in a desolate truck stop, drinking cold coffee that tastes like carbonic acid. Before the waitress even takes your order she will further ruin your day by saying: “Sorry, hon, but we’re outta bacon.”
Not that this has ever happened to me.
So enjoy your easygoing day. Sure, there’s no mind blowing euphoria, but all those feel-good neuro chemicals swimming around in your brain would only leave you in a stupor tomorrow.
I’m not kidding, either. Have you ever noticed how immediately after Christmas morning life stinks? What kid doesn’t know the personal anguish of the post-Christmas blues?
All that holiday hype can be a recipe for disaster when you think about it. There are whole months of excitement, build-up, singing, and sugary foods. Then comes the happy morning. And suddenly, boom, it’s over. Nuclear winter sets in.
Trust me on this, when you get older you’ll realize that small celebrations are the way to go.
So although the tiny birthday party in your hospital bed might not be what you wanted, try not to be too disappointed. Because the fact is you’re a hero, Noah.
You probably don’t see yourself as a hero, but all survivors of cancer are heroes. I believe heroes like you were sent to teach us. You probably don’t think of yourself as a teacher, either. But you are.
Take me, for instance. I have learned from you, although we’ve never met in person. I feel like I know you because I read the emails your mother sends me. I know how strong you are.
You’ve helped me, Noah. And as time goes by, you will keep instructing others. I only hope you can be patient with us, your fellow humans. Because we are a thickheaded species. We notoriously focus on the wrong things.
Do you want to know a secret about us adults? Do you know how grown-ups always wear worried frowns and appear perpetually constipated? Well, do you know what 99 percent of us are anxious about?
That’s right. Most of your ordinary adults aren’t worried about big stuff. When you boil it down, we worry about paper currency and copper pennies. Actually, U.S. pennies don’t even contain much copper anymore, they’re mostly zinc. And paper dollars are made of 75 percent cotton.
So this basically means we adults spend our lifetimes worrying about tiny pieces of zinc and cotton.
And we don’t just worry about these things, Noah, we fight over them. Wars begin over this stuff. You will see many people, people you love, sacrifice their lives, their health, and their families for what amounts to zinc coins and cotton bills.
Meanwhile, there you’ll sit. Watching our messed-up world from your unique position. As a cancer survivor, it’s your place to teach us that life is more than nickels and dimes.
Right now, you’re probably reading this from the oncology ward, eating cake, wondering what in the world I’m talking about. “Nickels and dimes?” you’re thinking. “Huh?”
One day when you’re older this letter will make sense. On that day you’ll have a grasp of what I’m poorly attempting to write about. By then you will have been teaching your fellow mortals for many years, brightening their lives.
Sadly, there is little we can give you in return for the joy you will bring us. Because we are feeble creatures, Noah. We truly are. What’s more, many of us will never know the richness of life the way you do.
I say all this because I know you’re broken-hearted about having such a simple birthday this year. I know you feel a little cheated. But I can guarantee you this: according to your parents, your family, and those of us who love you, your humble party is the grandest thing happening on planet Earth tonight.