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Birthday for one


Neal P. Corpus

Posted on October 28, 2020

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Until we can all gather again, here’s an elegy for the lost birthday celebrations of 2020.

Produced by NEAL P. CORPUS

By now, a lot of us have celebrated our birthdays. With no one but ourselves, most likely, or at least not with the same volume of people as birthdays past.

As Filipinos, we’re accustomed to large gatherings — fiestas, reunions, or even just the weekly Sunday family lunch. Coming together around a buffet table (of any size) is just part of our culture. We love to eat, but more than that, we love to eat together.

Which is probably why celebrating our birthdays have been especially strange. Early on in the lockdown, those of us who had birthdays in the latter part of the year thought that maybe this would be over by the time we would turn a year older, and we remained optimistic about making plans.

Photo by Renzo Navarro

But as the months crawled by, it became increasingly clear that there would be no gathering in one room to watch a person blow out some candles on a cake. There would be no glasses clinked to another orbit around the sun.

One could argue that a Zoom celebration is an acceptable band-aid solution, but the warmth, both literally and figuratively, just isn’t there. No digital interaction will replace the embrace of a cousin, a beso from your favorite tita, or the gentle mano from your grandparents.

About three months in isolation, I joked to friends that if we were still quarantined when my birthday rolled along (I’m a Libra), then it would be a different world. I mean, surely we would be able to celebrate some birthdays this year, right?

But Libra season — known for its jovial atmosphere — has come and gone, and here we are still. What will become of other celebrations? What will Christmas look like?

Fortunate are the ones quarantined with family and loved ones, but for those who live by themselves, a birthday is an excuse to be surrounded by their chosen family. And with this opportunity ripped away from our hands by an unrelenting virus and an incompetent response, sweet turns into sour.

Photo by Renzo Navarro

I return to the thought of gathering over food, and how it acts as the third character in our celebrations. Maybe if I have at least two characters present (myself and my favorite dishes), then perhaps some of the void would be filled?

I think about all the dishes I would serve if this year’s salu-salo pushed through. I make a mental list as I walk over to Greenbelt, the mall that saw many of my birthday lunches at Manam and Sunday brunches at Mary Grace with my mom after attending mass at the chapel.

I reminisce about watching movies at the cinema and digging my hands into some popcorn, and playing with my little cousins at Timezone when it was one of their birthdays.

It’s nice to see the mall open, I think, as I walk past the restaurants my friends and I used to frequent until half a year ago. I’m thankful they are able to stay open and the staff can keep their jobs, and hopefully put together a spread for their own birthdays.

I buy myself enough birthday spaghetti (Pinoy style, of course) and some cake that’s enough for four people. I’ll eat the rest in the following days, I tell myself. The comfort food of comfort foods will keep me company.

Photo by Renzo Navarro

When I get home, I blow out some candles in front of my computer screen, the cold portal that lets me see familiar smiles even for a short while. There we all are, eating our favorites from the imaginary buffet table delivered via courier, hoping this year will be a one-off.

I joke that we’re all on an aging freeze and that we’ll have to celebrate the same milestones next year because this one doesn’t count. It feels like nothing has happened at all, but the emotional fatigue says otherwise. We share a virtual embrace to cap off the call.

There are still two months worth of birthdays to be celebrated this year, but from the way things are looking, they may endure the same fate. At least now they can enjoy a socially-distanced restaurant, separated only by plexiglass and a few empty chairs. But at least they can still be with other people.

If this year’s birthday has been lonely, know you’re not alone. If anything, the introspection will only be clearer. And until we can see each other again in person, at least there’s always cake.

Planning your own birthday party for one? Ayala Malls’ Neighborhood Assistant (A.N.A.) will help you out.

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