Last October, while hanging out with the neighbors on our back porch, my partner, Luke, got a call from our old friend Isaiah. Isaiah is one of those great people who we unfortunately don’t hang out with or keep in touch with enough - a terrible side effect of ALL this adulting we ALL have to do ALL of the time.
Being that we don’t talk to him often, Luke figured the call must have been important. So, he stepped away to answer. As it turned out, Isaiah’s stepfather unexpectedly passed away. He wanted to know if Luke would officiate the funeral.
It often surprises people when they find out that Luke used to work in ministry and is still ordained. It’s irony at its most delicious seeing as how I sometimes behave like the devil’s house boy. Luke still often uses his ordination to officiate weddings. Funerals are more rare. As one can imagine, they take an emotional toll.
But he had already done a service for a friend of Isaiah’s who took his own life a few years back. This was the only time we had met his stepfather, so obviously we weren’t close with this man. However, the family and friends loved the way Luke officiated the prior funeral for the friend, so it only seemed natural that he help with this one, too.
Luke agreed to do the officiation and told me the date.
“Oh, the day of my birthday,” I said.
“Shit. I didn’t even think of that. I’m sorry, love. I’ll call him back and tell him I can’t do it.”
We both immediately knew that this wasn’t the right solution. I wanted to be there for our friend. We adore him and this is what friends do.
“No, you should still do it,” I told him. “We haven’t made any plans for my birthday yet.”
In any case, the truth is that I kind of hate my birthday. Not because it’s a sign of me getting older or anything like that. More so because I get frustrated in trying to figure out what to actually do for it.
Do I just be simple and not make a big deal of it? But it’s a good reason to bring people together. Do I have some kind of party at the house? That takes so much work and money. Do I see if folks want to meet up at a bar? That makes people spend their own money and everyone seems awkward trying to talk over the loud music. My brain then short circuits and catches on fire.
With my birthday being ten days before Halloween, Luke suggested we do a pumpkin carving party at the house. This reminded me of how my mom always made me have Halloween themed birthdays growing up. It would enrage me because all I ever wanted was a Christmas themed birthday so that I could play Santa and people would bring ME gifts (instead of the other way around). Mother refused to compromise.
Anyhow, Luke’s simple and totes-adorbs-idea didn’t sound all that much like something I’d do anyway. Sure, I’ve become a bit of a homebody and am currently sober. But I had a reputation for being that edgy guy with the tattoos. My desires to face fears have given me a provocative reputation. A pumpkin carving party sounded way too cheesy and tame for a guy like me.
Though this year’s birthday wasn’t a milestone (which I just accidentally spelled “mildstone”), it did land on a Saturday which only happens, like what, every six years? It felt like I had to do SOMETHING interesting. But each time I tried to think about it, I went back to that same back-and-forth thinking that always just ends in procrastination.
With time running out, I finally just opted for the pumpkin carving deal and figured I’d keep the invite list small - just thirty of my closest friends. After sending out the invite, only six of them RSVP’d. This didn’t make me feel better about the whole thing. Rather, I felt pretty lame.
Plus, this all DID kind of make me feel older. Maybe I actually was worried about aging. About to turn thirty-six, I hadn’t even achieved what I set out to accomplish by the time I turned thirty-five. And lately, I’ve been constantly checking the crown of my head to see if I’m losing hair the same way my father did.
One thing I do enjoy about my birthday is when all the people on Facebook write nice notes on my wall. However, when I woke up the morning of, no one had done this. With having gotten a few well-wishes on messenger, I knew this all had to be due to some glitch. But still, my birthday was just starting to feel like a cursed day.
When my mother called, she did say that Facebook wouldn’t allow her to write anything. I researched it and realized I had put a block on allowing people to post on my wall. I did this a while back when I got tired of folks posting invitations for me to come play games where we have to crush candy or something.
Around 5:30 p.m., we got to the church for the funeral and helped Isaiah set up. I volunteered to work the audio - which really just meant that I would sit there and play two songs at their respective times. It’s probably about the most I should even be entrusted with.
The funeral itself was not large. His stepfather didn’t have a ton of people in his life. But the people who he did have loved him a lot. When Isaiah did his speech during the service, the tears that rolled down his cheeks were enough to make a few tears roll down yours too - even if you didn’t know this man.
I’ve surprisingly gone to more funerals than I imagine someone typically would by their mid-thirties. And I’ve noticed that when we go to funerals, we usually walk away thinking two things.
The first being that we wonder what our own funeral would be like. Would it be a sad time for grieving or an uplifting celebration of life? What kind of food would be served? Who would speak? Will there be a slideshow? What songs will get played? For a music geek, that’s the most important one.
This all probably sounds like the most morose thing you can think about on your birthday. But the other thing you think about after walking away from a funeral is how you’ve got to stop wallowing around in self pity and appreciate what you’ve got. And this is quite possibly the best thing a person can think about on their birthday. I felt entirely fortunate that Isaiah invited us to be a part of his families important day.
When we got home, we only had about thirty minutes before our guests would start arriving. As they showed up, things turned out just as small as Facebook had promised. But where I once would’ve considered this tragic, I now felt fairly fortunate. Instead of a large party, where everyone would huddle in corners talking only with those they knew, the energy flowed freely even between those who had just met for the first time. Life felt good.
I don’t particularly like carving pumpkins. The insides feel all yucky and they smell weird. I have no artistic ability and I have a tendency to accidentally cut myself when messing around with sharp objects. However, on this night, I was having an amazing time. Hearing my friends laugh made me feel lucky to be alive so that I could enjoy such good things with such great people.
Like the funeral, this didn’t have to be big in order to feel significant. Perhaps when social butterflies get older, we start to realize that life should be more about quality than quantity. And these friends who did show up to carve pumpkins totally brought the quality.
This is not to say that those who didn’t show up were not quality people. The invite had gone out with just barely a week to spare and some folks already had plans. But if I was being honest with myself, I would admit that “quality” didn’t apply to every single person on that original invite list. Why did I do such things?
In the end, I am the kind of person who needs human connection in order to feel… well, connected. Being in the presence of others, whether they are friends or acquaintances or otherwise, brings me a sense of joy in life. That’s not a bad thing. But perhaps I don't need hundreds of Facebook wall posts or thirty friends to show up to know that I am loved.
And who cares if I am getting older anyway? Because after going to a funeral for your birthday, you remember that aging is a pleasure denied by many.
Luke and I would like to thank Isaiah and his family for giving us the honor to help out in their time of need. Additional and special thanks to Isaiah for letting me write this essay. I love you, buddy.
Edited by Glen Trupp
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