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I’m Out Of The Office Today Because It’s My Birthday

When this article is published, I am either still on the ferry, or already on the German island Helgoland.

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Happy and sad birthday to me

About the wisdom in the Romanian wish

A handful of old and decrepit wrist watches.
Photo by Heather Zabriskie on Unsplash

Quarantine or not, at the beginning of May it was my birthday. All the kind people in my life have sent me messages and wishes, making me shy out of so much attention in one day.

In English, people say “Happy Birthday,” but in Romanian, the wish is “La multi ani,” which can be translated as “Many years ahead.” Sometimes, when people want to make the message more eloquent, they will say, “May you live at least 100 years”.

I was curious about how people congratulate each other in 25 other languages, and I found out that the wording of the wish is around the celebration of the day. In the Romanian expression, we are focusing on the future and the years that are to come. I find the wish a bit weird, as almost an unconscious fear that this might be the last anniversary ever, and we are desperately hoping that life won’t end soon for the person in question.

A mix of present and future: the Romanian wish celebrates the present and serves as a reminder of our mortality

How did we get to this melancholic birthday wish, I do not know.

Imagine playing around with the expression, like an actor rehearsing and trying to find the best voice on the stage: now it is a happy “La multi ani,” then a pensive, meditative voice; and lastly a wondering voice, asking a question: “La multi ani? “.

After all, if it was up to us, would we want to live for so many years? Yes, when we are young, happy, and full of trust, the answer is resolute and firm, rising like a kite in a warm summer wind. We want the future, and we want it to be long-lasting. Isn’t this wish a bit heartless when we are alone, depressed, or hit hard by life? I think it is, and I always thought that the birthday wish is not fit for everyone and in all situations.

That is why I have learned to truly take my time when sending birthday wishes to someone, so that my words will show some respect and care for the person. I guess the culture feeds us with stereotypes that we can safely use, and then quickly move on with our lives, especially in situations when we do not know too much about the inner life of the other person.

This year, I have received so many written messages from people that thought about me, and I carefully read them through and reflected on the meaning of each wish. I have responded, touched, and politely, but at the same time, pensive. To some wishes, I felt that I wanted to take a step back and respond something like “Well, let’s be realistic, what are the stakes that even half of what you are saying to come true?” or “Do you really think that I or anyone with some reason would ever wish such a thing?”, but of course, there was no point in debating around some words. After all, the role of the Grinch is already taken!

I guess I had to accept both sides of the coin. That is why I have convinced myself that for my birthday it will be ok from now on to be both happy and sad; and, to recognize both the present and the future, both life and death, at the same time.

Maybe Romanians are wise, after all!

If you enjoyed this story, I would be grateful if you would take a look at my other works:

© Ana-Maria Schweitzer 2020

I am a Romanian health psychologist, working in philanthropy and involved in developing prevention and care programs for people with chronic conditions. As a seeker of meaning, I use writing and playing with words, as ways of uncovering both the order and disorder that reign inside and outside our minds.

Happy and sad birthday to me was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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