My family is reflecting on what the holiday season means to us. It’s a beautiful time of year, and I am deeply grateful for my life and the people who have contributed to making it spectacular. At the moment, however, I’m looking back at this past year and remembering small moments that mattered. It all started with a very long birthday celebration.
I’ve been celebrating a milestone birthday. Last year at this time (a few months before my birthday), I woke up and decided that starting ‘today’, I would celebrate my birthday, and keep celebrating for a year. Looking back, these celebrations were an attempt to take a stand once and for all against feeling unseen or invisible. At the same time, I knew that there were shadows of myself that just would not fit into the life that was in front of me. Sometimes I hid core parts of myself (like my wisdom), and too often I inhabited what I thought were others’ projections of me. It prevented everyone from seeing the fullness of who I am today, and who I am becoming. Noticing these parts of myself didn’t make me doubt my impact. It didn’t make me question my success, or the relationships I’d made along the way. It did make me want to shake up my perspective to become more expansive and nuanced. I wanted to let some air in to get perspective on my own perspective. One of my ‘go to’ strategies to see previously unseen parts of myself has been to drop into a completely different context and then notice. For example, my work in China over the years has helped me immediately see and experience myself in new ways. In China, there was no discomfort in talking about skin color, or race. No one pretended it didn’t exist, so it became something I could examine out in the open. My work with Flourishing Gays has had a similar impact on me. I talked about the challenges of manifesting my masculine energy; others talked about the challenges of manifesting feminine energy. We compared notes on what it meant to be a queen and how our subcultures could learn from each other.
I decided to find a new way to flip the script at home. For those who know me, and have chuckled, but secretly enjoyed and joined in on my numerous birthday celebrations, I thank you! Every time I went out, I would tell the waiters, waitresses, conference attendees, workshop participants, and perfect strangers that it was my birthday. Small gestures of kindness made a big impact. They sang; they made beautiful cards; they gave wacky presents; they brought me free desserts. In the first few months alone, I gained 15 pounds (with a smile on my face!). Since then, I have lost most of my birthday weight, but it is worth sharing some of the moments that stood out for me. One waiter, named Justice, heard it was my milestone birthday, and even when no other staff would, stood in front of a room full of workshop attendees and trembled as he sang, ‘happy birthday!’ He pushed through his fear to acknowledge me. I did eventually let him in on my birthday truth, and he was happy to have taken part even though it wasn’t my first birthday celebration this year. A few months later, I saw him at a conference, and he asked if he could sing ‘happy birthday’ again to me. He was eager and more confident this time. He told me again that it was a great idea, and was honored to acknowledge me. For months, my friend Eileen brought me a little birthday present every time she saw me – a flower bulb, a pencil holder, a cute stack of sticky notes. “I just love this idea” she would tell me. “You are such a badass!” Some of my workshop participants would greet me every morning, and they routinely ended emails with “happy birthday!” I was humbled by the way colleagues and perfect strangers extended themselves to acknowledge another human being with such care and fanfare. I was learning to receive their acknowledgements down in my bones, and I was also seeing with new eyes how humans could and would ‘be’ with their fellow human beings. Those small moments were big moments. I often felt the sweetest, most exquisite quality of being seen and honored by courageous strangers like Justice.
The word humble comes from the Latin root ‘humus’ meaning earth, or ground. To be humble, I imagine bowing down low to the ground. This is territory where grace and gratefulness flow. It is not a point in time. There is no ‘right’ time to be grateful, or humble. Even after I stopped actively celebrating my birthday, people still wanted to give me gifts, send me a ‘happy birthday’ note, or just make sure they didn’t miss the opportunity to tell me ‘happy birthday’ today. It seems grandiose to demand acknowledgment, but to receive it by the people who sent it my way, I had to bow down low. Along the way, I began to notice that others enjoyed joining in, and appreciated the boldness I showed in declaring that I deserved to be celebrated over and over and over. Not everyone was thrilled, but many were genuinely delighted to acknowledge me and in acknowledging me, they were keeping a little acknowledgement for themselves. This year, I’ve learned about the sweetness and power in impromptu moments of shared humanity. It is a place where equality consciousness breeds and grows. I tap into this same energy when I pay the bill for the person behind me at Starbucks, or send someone a text appreciating a quality of theirs that touched me.
On a more serious note, a few months ago, a friend of mine committed suicide. He didn’t have any family. It was devastating, and I wanted to do something with my love for him. I spoke with the woman who had loved him and supported him over what I can only imagine were some tough years. I reached out to her, and by the end of the conversation, I decided to continue to reach out, but also decided to send her fresh fruit every month for a year. It was a small gesture that made a big statement. She was so grateful to receive her first delivery of pears and told me enthusiastically that she planned to make a pear tart! Every month, she will know I am with her, and perhaps will feel seen by me. I have recommitted myself to spend the time with and notice as best I can the fullest expression of the human being in front of me, and that alone has brought tears. Sometimes water flowed from their eyes, and sometimes people were deeply touched. These small acts don’t change a life, but do change someone’s day. We do have to live day by day after all.
Wherever you go this season, whoever you spend it with, in all of the rush of decorating, and parties and gift wrapping, or as you sit quietly at home, remember that today is a special day, an important day, a ‘birthday’ for someone who deserves to be seen by you. Take the time to see their humanity in the big moments and in the small moments, and create a blessing. Happy holidays… and happy birthday!
34 thoughts on “Happy Birthday!”
Just lovely, Vernice! Thank you for making my day brighter and more beautiful as I lived your year with you!
May every day and very year be a celebration of you!!!
Thank you Barbara. Yes, everyday and every year can be part of our ongoing celebration. Thank YOU for how you celebrate your precious grandgirls, and for your ever-present generosity!
gorgeous! indeed we are continuously giving birth to versions of our selves, so why not celebrate each moment?
You badass you!
Right back at you, Jan. Thanks for your comment!
This is lovely and so humane. I love seeing people stopping to take the time to see one another as humans deserving of kindness.
Agreed! Thanks for your comment, Lee!
“Deep Wisdom and Love” are you who you are! Thank you for sharing your insights and journey so that we are all encouraged on our own way forward….in!
Cheers my Dear Coach and Happy Birthday!
Thanks for your heart, Patty. Reveling in our mutual admiration for the holidays…
This is so joyful and completely inspiring me. I’m going to tell the waiter it’s my friend’s birthday tonight and surprise them with it!
You go girl! ❤️
This is so inspiring, Vernice. I love how you connect “seeing and being seen” with humility, grace, and gratitude. Your entry made me realize that growing in freedom to fully own who we are, and be seen as such, is indeed a process of growing in humility – and the gratitude that flows from it. Thanks so much for such a heart warming blog!
Agreed Jan. Growing in freedom isn’t free, but certainly is an exercise in humility. Be careful what you ask for…
You are such as bad-ass! I am humbled to be a witness to your commitment to explore your edges and keep pushing forward.
Beautiful post describing your journey!
Thank you, Henna!
How do manage to really see things (and people) for exactly what they are and still remain so joyful and curious and engaged in the the world? This birthday thing is wonderful. It makes me hopeful that I can find a way to live every day engaged in a positive and meaningful way. Thank you!
Thanks Janice for your comment. YOU inspire ME my friend with your ability to engage with the world in a positive, meaningful and brilliant way all the time. The people in your circle of love, generosity and influence are fortunate indeed.
Lovely and delightful as ever, Vernice! There is so much to recognize, embrace, and celebrate all of the time! No need to wait to sing Happy Birthday when you move through the world with an open, generous heart and a passion for connecting with humanity. Bravo!
Agreed. Cheers David!
Lovely. Happy Birthday Vernice.
Vernice, I love this post so much! I am so inspired by your act(s) of courage, humility, and generosity to hold this space for all to join you in connection and celebration. This process – as well as the outcomes – are profound. Thank you for this birthday gift!
You are so welcome, Ariela. Happy holidays! Happy birthday!!
Lovely post, Vernice! It’s a delight to read what was behind the celebrations you shared with so many people this past year. You fully deserve to be seen and appreciated.
Thanks Sue! Yes ma’am. I want all of us to be seen – by ourselves and others. It’s not that one is a prerequisite of the other, but when the external world has aligned distortions, it can get us out of sync with ourselves and our connections that have the potential to go deep and wide. I know it’s been a journey to see my celebrations from the outside in. Thank you again for being in celebration with me! ❤️
I love this insightful post – you have earned a very happy birthday many times over, Vernice. Cheers to your next year being just as full of joy, love, courage and wisdom as this one <3
Thanks Caroline. Cheers to a 2020 where you feel seen, challenged, and presented with paths and resources that hadn’t been visible in 2019. Don’t miss what might have been in your orbit all along. Wishing you well!
Love your post Vernice! Your writing is delicious! Allowing mySelf too be visible and seen…..beautiful challenge. Love you
Thank you Cordelia! Sending yourSelf gratitude for how it has served you over the last few years. Looking forward to sharing a meal when we happen to be in the same city!
Thank you for sharing the full story and impact Vernice. I knew there was something about your Happy Birthday project and didn’t understand the depth of what I experienced as such a joyous and fun experiment. Glad to know you and learn from your lightness and depth.
Thank you Anne. It is always easier to describe at the tail-end of the experience after a bit of reflection. I’m so glad you were able to join me in some of the celebrations!
Thanks, Vernice, for sharing your fresh writing, which always expands my perspective and awakens life.
You are too kind, Kerim. Looking forward to seeing you in February.
Thank you for inspire us ,keep posting .
Any surprise birthday party idea?
Hi Ameena. No surprise birthday party this year – just a quiet meal with family and friends. Still, my heart was (and is) full with not only celebration, but gratitude. Thank you so much for bringing these moments back to me. Perfect timing in today’s world!
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