22 Dec Happy Birthday to Me!
My birthday was never much of a big deal.
Being born on the 21st of December, four days before Christmas, it often got overlooked amid all the holiday preparations. I remember one year when I was a boy, maybe 10 years old, I received only one gift from my younger brother. It was a jock strap. Happy Birthday to me!
In India, back here at the Good Shepherd Agricultural Mission, birthdays have a different twist. You are expected to throw your own party. That’s not to say you won’t get some gifts or cards or a delicious fried chicken dinner…but you may also be asked: “What are you going to give us, Uncle?” by many of the kids who live here.
So I have a bit of a birthday tradition going. For the past three years, I buy enough cake so everyone on the mission can have a piece. That’s about 150 pieces if you count laborers and anyone else who happens to be on the property on that particular day. The cake is ordered from a local bakery, it comes in four big boxes, pre-cut and ready for serving.
I pass it out during 4 o’clock tea time. The children gather together and sing a raucous version of “Happy Birthday,” then piece by piece the cake goes out. When everyone at the initial gathering is fed, the party goes house to house, singing as we go, making sure everyone, young and old, gets a piece. It’s a joyous parade that happened at sunset this year and involved around thirty children as my cake-giving posse.
It’s a simple thing. Just cake and some kids. But there’s something really beautiful about this tradition for me. It’s outside, for one thing. It’s active. It brings me to every corner of the Mission, to every house, with a simple gift to celebrate another year of my being alive. The kids love it; they jockey to hand pieces out, to lick the knife and the empty boxes, to hold my hand, to sing loud. It’s a party. It’s fun.
When we reached the furthest house on the property and delivered the last Mission-family pieces…there was only one piece left. “Who will we give it to?” Ram Pal asked me, hoping—I suspect—that I’d choose him. But I looked around and saw a small village boy, walking slowly across the rice fields. He was maybe five years old, all alone, wearing a read hooded sweatshirt. “Him!” I said, pointing, and everyone cheered.
We ran like a mob towards this boy and delivered the last piece in the box. His face was thunderstruck, his two tiny hands held the pastry cake like a treasure and he smiled as if his secret wish had been granted as he turned around and headed for home.
I gave my camera to 16-year-old Rosie (in blue) who took all the photos included in this post.
I think she did an amazing job!
I’ll be over here in India for the next few months, enjoying life with this beautiful group of people, sharing my life with them. I turned 51 this time around the sun, and if my birthday is any indication, it’s going to be a great year.
Happy Birthday to me, indeed!