We’re Living On Borrowed Time

It’s quite simple really. I used to cry at every birthday. I’m 24 years old now and even though I don’t cry on my special day anymore, I still get very sad. I get upset at my friends’ and family’s birthdays too.

My mum was the one to point out this weird 'habit'. She also told me this started and continued without fail since I was 7. I’m not 100% sure it’s linked to my third culture kid side, but I strongly believe there is some sort of connection. 

When we moved to Singapore, I was seven years old and went to the French international school there during our first four years in Asia. Birthday parties were a big part of our childhood rituals. When it came to your birthday; you had to carefully consider who to invite. Then those invited had to find the best gift. The parents had to ensure the birthday party was the best celebration possible and make sure all guests got a little surprise packet. It was some sort of unspoken competition when we were kids, and even perhaps between parents—who could throw the most impressive birthday do? 

It’s ridiculous now that I think about it. But we, as 7 and 8-year-olds, would talk about the next birthday party for days (if it was going to be that good). Depending on who’s it was, you’d want to make sure you were invited. I didn’t really like going to those birthday parties. Standing at the back of the room, watching their temporary happiness. I wasn’t an unhappy kid, but I have to admit this made me sad.

You see, every year, one or a few of our classmates would leave. They would leave for another country or another international school. We knew this marked ‘the end’. We knew we would barely keep in touch. The person is a part of our day to day and as soon as they step out of it, no matter what we said, it was truly over. (It’s always like this, isn’t it?)

Those birthday celebrations were borrowed time from what was coming. Seeing the birthday boy or girl so happy, feeling so fulfilled, you couldn’t help but know it was temporary. Perhaps the year after, that very same birthday boy or girl would be in a new country, with new friends, doing it all over again.

I’ve always had this vision of birthdays. What’s the point of celebrating an important day with new people every year? At least, that’s how I see it and that’s how I’ve always seen it. I get upset at every birthday because of the fear of living on borrowed time.

When it comes to my own birthday, I’ve spent many in a new place, with new people, with or without family. I’ve come to see it as a normal day, and force myself to keep expectations low to avoid disappointment. Recently, thanks to an amazing person in my life who went out of his way to make my birthday extra special, I’ve felt much better. I guess it was the only birthday where I gave in to that warm and fuzzy feeling and avoided thinking about the temporary nature of things.

And so, I leave you with this poem:

And in the end
the most important piece of advice
that my past has given me

Is to enjoy life
while you’re living it
you can never know
which moments will be the ones
that you’ll remember
and when happiness will hit you

So be open for anything
at any time
do not fret over the past
but learn from it
and make new memories
every day

For there is only one life
and one chance.