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One Single Birthday Cake

Naomi Wein

What did I want my family to do — ignore my birthday entirely? Not buy a cake and thus abandon family tradition? That’d feel even worse

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

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BIRTHDAY BLESSING So much has been achieved this year. It may not have been filled with milestones, but my birthday does bear testimony that I’ve used a year in This World to the fullest

"H appy Birthday to you, happy birthday to you…!” my family choruses as they present me with a creamy bakery birthday cake.

They set it down on the table in front of me, and the frosting looks up to meet the expected glint in my eye and gleeful smile. But when I look up into the mirror in our dining room, the smile is strained, and my eyes carry no excitement. I glance back down at the cake: A curlicue of cream announces my age. I slip the knife through the softness and can’t hold back the slight grimace.

I don’t want to thwart the efforts to make me feel good on my birthday. And really, what did I want my family to do — ignore my birthday entirely? Not buy a cake and thus abandon family tradition? That would feel even worse.

I pass the first plate to my father. To my father, not my husband. Because I don’t have a husband. Yet. (That last word is there for my father; he would put it in if I didn’t.) I really wish I could be sharing this birthday cake with my husband. Just the two of us. In our own apartment. We would slice off just two pieces and eat leisurely, sharing a joke…

I continue cutting, slipping pieces onto plates, passing out the portions. When everyone has received a slice, I pick up my fork and take a piece of my own slice. It’s creamy and gooey, just the way I like it, but right now, it tastes both sickeningly sweet and bitter. I reach for a glass of water and take a gulp.

In my head, I hear that niggling, be-a-good-girl-and-eat-your-vegetables voice speak up. Stop it! Stop thinking so negatively! You’re making yourself feel miserable. Just feel grateful for all the good you have and stop dwelling on what you don’t have! It works. For about a minute.

I think of my married friends. I wonder what they think about on their birthdays. They probably exchange sentiments with their spouses, something like, “Last year, Moishele wasn’t even born yet!” or “Last year, Shira wasn’t even talking yet, and now she’s singing ‘Happy bir-day to Ima!’ ” But I don’t have such milestones to celebrate, because nothing much has happened since last year.

The party is over, the table cleared. I think a bit harder. I’ve gone through every hurtful, painful thought, and I’m ready now to analyze things carefully and think positively. I wonder for a minute, what is a birthday? Of course, it’s a day that’s all about you and when you were born, and you have cake. And maybe presents. But what kind of day is it in the spiritual world?

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