My phone vibrated. The first birthday text of the day came from the old man who coached my Little League team after my father died. He made a real impact on me during a time when I was most vulnerable.
“Happy birthday, Samuel!” he texted.
I was so moved. And although, technically, my name is not Samuel (it’s Sean), it is still nice to be remembered.
The next email I received was from a guy in Mayfield, Kentucky. He’s busy helping with the relief efforts after the devastation from the tornadoes.
“Happy birthday, Sean…” the man’s letter began. “I love you.”
I could not believe that in the midst of a veritable ground zero, this man took the time to wish me a happy birthday. This time, I cried.
Later, my phone vibrated again. An old friend who is currently undergoing cancer treatment in California messaged.
“Happy birthday, Sean…” was the gist of the email she sent during her chemo treatment.
This woman who is undergoing the worst trial of her lifetime paused to wish me well. My cup runneth all over the place.
Throughout the day, the phone rattled in my pocket nonstop. My mother texted. My sister. Old coworkers. My cousins. My uncles. My old employers. Someone with important information about my vehicle warranty.
And I got a text from my pal, Guillermo.
Ah, Guillermo. I met Guillermo in a Walmart parking lot many years ago. My heap-of-junk Buick had broken down. Guillermo saw me from across the lot, struggling. He fixed my engine although he did not speak a lick of Norte-Americano.
That night, I figured out that Guillermo was living in his car in the Walmart parking lot. He was camped there until he got enough money to fix his Honda’s transmission.
And since I speak fluent hand gestures, I asked him if he wanted to come live with me and my wife.
I will never forget the look on my wife’s face when I arrived home with a five-foot-one Mexican man and proudly announced that we had a new roommate.
Guillermo fit right in. My wife and I fell in love with him. In the evenings, I helped him practice English, and he would tell stories about Mexico, and about how much he missed his family.
Sometimes he’d start crying, and we’d awkwardly hug each other until one of us manfully cleared our throats and talked about football in his own language.
We haven’t talked in years. But today, I received his text which read: “¡Feliz cumpleaños!” Which, of course, for those who don’t speak Español, means: “You deserve more than three beers today.”
For the rest of the day, my phone pulsated like crazy. It vibrated right off the table and into the air vent at one point. I received a few thousand texts from old friends and family.
There was the text from my fourth-grade school teacher. I don’t know how she got my number. She texted:
“Happy birthday, Sean! Remember when you peed your pants in my class? LOL!”
There was a text from the elderly preacher from my childhood. His eyes are in poor condition due to cataracts, but somehow he managed to tap out a text, which read:
“Happy birthday to you,
“Happy birthday to you,
“Happy birthday, dead Sean,
“Happy birthday to you.”
I’ve never been so happy to be alive.
And the well-wishes kept coming. More emails, more messages, more texts. I received messages from people I’ve never met.
Like the teenager who was just adopted after spending a childhood in an abusive foster home. “Happy birthday,” he wrote.
The seventeen-year-old whose father committed suicide, just like mine did when I was a child. “I love you, Sean. Happy birthday.”
The kid with brain cancer who reads my stuff.
The young woman who is sleeping in a shelter tonight after running away from an abusive husband.
The single mom who is about to get married tomorrow morning at the courthouse.
The young man who just rescued his first bloodhound.
The Catholic priest. The Carmelite nun. The Episcopal priest. The Presbyterian preacher. The Methodist minister. No Baptists messaged, but hey, you can’t have everything.
The irony here is that when I was a young man, I went through life believing that nobody cared about me. It’s no secret that I come from a broken home.
Birthdays were always the worst. I hated them. They were the darkest, most miserable days of the year. But not anymore.
So to anyone reading this, I want you to know that you’ve changed all that for me. This column/blog/whatever-the-heck-you-call-it introduced me to you. And you, my friend, have altered the course of my life forever.
All my love,