US Population: ~280,000,000. Days in a year: 365. Number of other US residents with whom you share a birthday: ~76,700.
If there is one thing as certain as the sun’s rising in the East, it is that at some time during the day the USS AVENGER chapter of STARFLEET: The International STAR TREKTMFan Association holds its anniversary picnic, it will rain. Hard. It could be in the late morning as we set up under the reserved shelter at a local park, mid-day as the more aggressive among us gear up for water-gun battles, or in the early evening as we pack up our gear to head to whatever after-party activity we may have decided upon – but it will rain.
The AVENGER’s official anniversary is June 25th, and we usually look to celebrate it on the third Saturday in June. This year, scheduling issues with North Brunswick’s park management caused us to have the picnic a week earlier, on June 13th – which happens to be my birthday (not that my friends remember it). This year, it also happened to be the date on which North Plainfield (my town of residence) scheduled its street fair, as well as the scheduled date of a community fair in a Brooklyn neighborhood that would have benefitted from some diabetes outreach. Either of these two fairs would have been a way to make my birthday meaningful beyond a date on a calendar or a number in a survey – an opportunity to mark it by doing something useful – but my time was already committed.
This year, the rain held off util about a quarter of four. Our party of 25 or so filled about half of the above-mentioned shelter, the only one in the park. We could have pulled in as many as four more sets of tables and benches to accommodate a larger crowd. Elsewhere in the park, families picnicked at similar tables set near and under trees, cooking on park-provided charcoal grills, the young children taking advantage of the playground equipment while the older ones played soccer in the open spaces.
As the rain started falling, a few of these picnickers noticed an unused table in our shelter space and asked if they might avail themselves of it. In truth, two tables were unused, and there was no reason not to share. Shortly after, a couple dozen picnickers were sharing the shelter, their children playing with ours, and (except for the rain) all was right with the world.
Curiously, about an hour or so later, folk at one of our tables started singing “Happy Birthday”. If they had been intending to sing it to me, they would have said as much in advance of the first note. I followed their gazes across the shelter. After a slight rain delay, the other group of picnickers – possibly an extended family – was celebrating the birthday of a little girl, embarrassing her by asking her in song how old she was this day. The last time I had a family birthday party like that, I was the three-year-old, and every bit as bashful as that girl. No family birthday parties for me any more: my grandparents have long since passed, my parents are unable to travel, The Other Half’s family lives 300 miles away, and my own extended family – those with whom I’ve had any relationship – live further still. Time marches on.
But for a moment, I was back in the house of my early childhood, my father’s family all around, and anticipating blowing out the candles on the white-frosted cake. Hold tight to your family, little one. You won’t understand how precious they are until you have been separated from them. Let the child have her day; I am too old for mine to count.