What Do You Do When Thousands of People Die On Your Birthday?

A year ago today I turned 30 years old. While I did that hundreds of thousands of people died in a devestating earthquake in Haiti.

Unlike most other people, particularly the people around my age, I actually had been looking forward to turning 30 and deep down I wished I could have been able to do something really spectacular to celebrate. I wanted my 30th to be memorable.

I should have been more specific.

No matter what I do on my birthday, it’s my special day. I’ve been sick on my birthday (more than is fair, in my opinion). I’ve worked on my birthday. I’ve had parties. I’ve spent it alone. But no matter how I spend the day, in my head it’s always special because it’s mine.

My 30th was no different. I went to the DMV to renew my license. It’s never much of a hassle in a town of 7,000, but that day it was almost enjoyable. My new picture is the first ID picture I’ve taken in my life that didn’t look like a mugshot following a night of booze and a misused pool cue. Lunch was just a trip through the McDonald’s drive-thru, but that was one delicious chicken sandwich. It was all due to the charm of my birthday and the glow of turning 30.

And then there was an earthquake.

I saw it first on Twitter. Initially, it was just another earthquake in a country I never planned to visit. Earthquake reports come across my Twitter feed all the time about other countries, one tweet maybe retweetted by two or three different people, and that’d be the end of the earth-shaking news.

But Haiti didn’t disappear.

More and more news came over my wire, mixing the birthday wishes with death toll numbers. The shine of my birthday had no affect on that kind of devestation. Turning 30 couldn’t compete iwth the destruction of pretty much an entire country.

So I didn’t try. I didn’t speak Haiti’s name all day and though I was aware of the news and kept up to date on the rising numbers and mounting wreckage, I kept it in my peripheral view.

Because it was my birthday, dammit! My day! And the Earth had no right to go heaving up and crushing people on my birthday. Really, it shouldn’t be doing it on any day, but this day in particular. I felt bad enough when Maurice Gibb died on my birthday. But a huge percentage of a country’s population? That’s a black cloud that lingers. Even if  I wasn’t do very much to celebrate it, my 30th birthday was now tainted, haunted, by the deaths of thousands.

I ignored that fact. I really did.

In a move that was purely and unabashedly selfish, I stuck my fingers in my ears and LALA’d in the face of a natural disaster and the dead people it brough with it. I averted my gaze from teh tragedy and focused my eyes on the glory that was the anniversary of my birth.

The rest of the day proceeded as planned. I made shrimp pasta for dinner. I wallowed in the birthday wishes from friends and family. I got a few presents. I ate cupcakes that my mother had gotten for me. My friend and roommate, Carrie, took pictures of me while I ate one, goofy, smiling pictures that belied the bizarre kind of survivor’s guilt that I felt.

Here I was celebrating a day that was seen by the rest of the world as a tragedy. And I was going to celebrate that day in teh years to come as a day of birth while everyone else would see it as an anniversary of death.

Against my will, I find myself a member of a very unique club. It’s a club of people who share their birthdays with 9/11, the Oklahoma City Bombing, the Columbine shootings, the Christmas Day tsunami, Pearl Harbor, and other notorious days known better for death than life. I’m not sure how to deal with that.

It’s a silly thing, I know. It’s a selfish thing, I know. But it’s my first birthday since this huge tragedy, so I’m still working out how to share my birthday with death.

I admit that last year I hid my head in the sand and really indulged in my selfishness, but I think I redeemed myself a little bit at the end of the day.

My birthday money went to Haiti.

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