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Birthdays, John the Baptist & Me

Today is my 35th birthday. If that number is meant to invoke panic about approaching middle age, sagging body parts, and introspection about where my life is as opposed to where I wish it to be, it has certainly failed.

I woke up this morning to the grayest of skies and a mood that can best be described as “soft.” I’d long planned not to be too hard on myself about anything (my work, my art, my life) on June 9. I’d promised myself that I would flow with whatever cropped up for the day, as my major celebrations are all planned for later this week and this month (can you say Miami?). This means I currently feel like butter: so relaxed I might actually be melting.

But as I laid among my several pillows just taking in the fact that I was alive and happily getting older, John the Baptist crept into my head. I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and to this day it is still strange, though incredibly liberating, to celebrate my birthday. From ages four to 16 I was not permitted to act like June 9 is special, that it belongs to me, that I have a right to rejoice in being here. This was all John the Baptist’s fault. Beloved Brother John got beheaded on King Herod’s birthday as a gift to his stepdaughter, Salome. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, this bloody act of lust-filled vengeance (prompted by Salome’s mother) means that any Christian worth his or her salt will back off of acknowledging birthdays in recognition of what befell John. I’m a pretty empathetic person, but since Jesus will presumably be reunited with John in heaven during the pending 1,000 years of paradise shouldn’t we turn away from the bloody spectacle of John’s death and rejoice in his guaranteed spiritual living? I’m not trying to be funny or blasphemous. It honestly doesn’t make sense to me.

Because celebrating birthdays was never programmed into my DNA as a child, I’ve always struggled to get to that ecstatic, excited place when my own rolls around. This has gotten a little easier in recent years because my friends just aren’t having it. And frankly, neither am I. I’m glad that I was born. June 9, 1975, was a great day and I would be remiss as a person who values life to let it go unmarked in the shadows of blood. Salome behaved very badly, but her punishment should never be mine. I’ve got too much to be grateful for to hide from my born day.

Happy birthday to me.