Happy Birthday in the Age of Wisdom


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Amarachi Nnodimele, Contributor

For longer than I’d like to admit, I used to think that birthdays were a pointless day of celebration. They were simply like every other boring, school-occupied day and homework-filled night, but with a side of cake and the smell of Dollar Tree balloons. 

If I’m being honest, I don’t remember how I celebrated my birthday before 2019. My mom would beg for parties to which I constantly refused, and family friends that I don’t remember meeting would call my mother’s phone to speak to me, regarding me with tales of how they held me as a young child many years ago. 

My most exciting birthday, however, was not one of action, but one of pain. I never would have guessed that a cold would turn into a painful infection that would land me in the hospital, unable to walk on the very weekend of my 14th birthday. 

As much pain as I was in, I would be lying to say I didn’t appreciate the change in setting. The sterile, sanitizer-filled smell of the hospital room was a refreshing adjustment from the yearly settings that consisted of school, my bedroom and the kitchen table. I didn’t get cake that year, but I did receive pretty white socks with silver studs on the toes and vanilla ice cream from the hospital, to which I was satisfied.

I was never really worried about my well-being at the time, nor did I see the need to be. I was recovering slowly, but I never doubted my restoration to health. My mother, however, would pray every night we stayed at the hospital, when she thought I was asleep, desperately begging to a higher deity for a speedy recovery.

The day after my birthday, I spent most of my time sleeping. I only awoke once during the day, when the doctor came to clean my wounds and serve me lunch with a side of painkillers. I had been so wrapped up in not caring about my own birthday, that I didn’t even acknowledge the one that came after. It wasn’t until that night that I woke up, in another painful attempt to use the restroom, that I heard a soft, sorrowful sound, one that I’d promised myself I would never want to hear again.

I’d only ever heard my mother cry once before, when my grandmother had died. That day as well I had woken up in the middle of the night, if only to satisfy the growling that clawed from the depths of my stomach. Her sobs however, chased the growling away, and any appetite that I’d had for the following day. A necessary reminder, that the woman I had deemed to be powerful, and sometimes pestering, was not invincible.

So the night after my birthday, I layed in my bed, as still as I could possibly be, and listened to the quiet weeping of my mother as she sat in the chaise to my right, shoulders shaking gently. I silently expressed sympathy, not bothering to move a muscle, in fear of feeling like an intruder. Looking back, I still believe this was a moment I wasn’t supposed to witness, but it was important that I did.

They say 50 is the age of wisdom, but my mother could have turned 30 that night and it wouldn’t make a difference to me, as I’d seen her as wise my entire life. In that moment however, I realized that 14 was an age of learning, and I had just learned one of the most important lessons of my life.  

As my heart shattered on the inside, and the clock struck 11, I realized the importance of birthdays. If not for myself, but for those who wished to celebrate, but couldn’t. For those who spent their own birthday worrying over their loved ones, watching them go through pain that they wished they could take away, and spent nights crying over their well being.

I never did make it to the bathroom that night. I lay drowsily in my bed, slowly swaying back to sleep in tune with my mother’s tears. 

“Happy birthday, Mom,” I whispered before dozing off in troubled peace.

Amarachi Nnodimele is a junior at Emmaus High School.