Happy Birthday!

“The Master said: At fifteen, I had my mind bent on learning. At thirty, I stood firm. At forty, I had no doubts. At fifty, I knew the decrees of Heaven. At sixty, my ear was an obedient organ for the reception of truth. At seventy, I could follow what my heart desired, without transgressing what was right.” - Confucius - The Analects of Confucius

Ten years ago, I stopped counting the years, and when asked my age, I always had to work it out by subtracting my year of birth to the current year. In my head, I only wanted to remember that I was 25+. One decade has gone, and I think from today, and for the 10 years to come, I might just as well only remember that I’m 35+. I’m lucky that like a lot of Asians, I look younger that my age, so I can continue this little game :)

I never considered birthdays to be very important. I enjoy and I am thankful for the moment of celebration when there’s one, but I’m not fussy when there isn’t. Trying to recall my previous birthdays, there are a few that really marked me.

I must have been 8 or so, and my mum organized a birthday party, we were maybe 6 or 8 little girls in the small apartment, we played games, had a cake and my friends gave me plenty of girly toys, the ones my mum would rarely get me, for they were lacking pedagogical interests. The ones I would never give to my friends for their birthdays. I was starting to realize that I was a bit different, but I was not able yet to say in what and why. In fact I couldn’t do so until my twenties. It’s amazing how I grew up in a cocoon, not realizing I was Asian among non-Asians or how uncommon it was to be raised with cousins by an aunt. A cocoon, in which I felt not much could happen to me and that surely taught me to always considered myself lucky or socially retarded.

My 18th birthday. I was in my first year of “classe préparatoire”, a year one has to focus on studying hard. I remember I stood there from our apartment on the 10th floor, looking at this view of Paris and its suburb I always grew up with, emotionally getting over a summer love, intellectually challenged by maths and physics equations, wondering what my life would be. Yet for this special day I was really on my own, I actually wanted to be on my own. It may even be that I was lucky enough for my birthday on that year to fall in the school holidays. I could be quiet about it. Somehow, I was starting to realize that my life only depended on myself. I had no inspiration in life, no strong passion for anything in particular, I was a good enough student to pass tests and get to the next stage of whatever the French educational system would allow me to do. Yet I started to feel that life could ever only be as good as what I wanted it to be and as I wanted to see it.

For my 25th birthday, my partner and I had recently bought and moved into our apartment. What a social fulfilment! It was finally a place of our own, that we could arrange the way we liked. That year, I guess I wanted to use my birthday as an opportunity to invite all my friends in this new house. I was struck that so many of them turned up, and I remember the happiness of seeing all of them smiling, chatting and enjoying themselves, friends from different background, friends from childhood as well as friends I made more recently. I was overwhelmed with their gifts. That may be when I realized that I had more friends that I thought, and my life was rich thanks to them. Ever since, with facebook and such, there are no big parties, many of my friends are far from where I live, but I still feel this richness on my birthday when they take a bit of their time to send me wishes online. I feel bad that I’m not disciplined enough to return the favour consistently.

Every birthday comes with its lot of realization. With age, I understand more of myself and I live better with myself, which is reassuring, which is something I’d like to call wisdom. The very fact that I can write and share these words is one of its manifestation. I can write my story, understanding better what it means and knowing that it can’t be rewritten. This may be the realization of my 35th birthday.