Jeff Winger claims that what separates humans from animals is that we are the only ones who observe Shark Week. This is partially true. Animals do not observe special weeks in which they stare at other animals. No shark is going to have Human Week. But it’s not the whole truth.
This is what that idea gets correct: human beings celebrate things, and no other animal does. When a baby bird first flies, the parents don’t pull out the bird camcorder to preserve that moment for their nest movies. The parents just acknowledge that this is essential for their survival.
When a baby human first walks, however, parents act like their child has discovered the cure for cancer. It doesn’t occur to them that most every other person on the planet can accomplish this same feat. It never occurs that this actions is simply essential for survival.
And that is what separates humans from animals: humans celebrate not dying yet.
Once a year, a human being will gather with its friends on the anniversary of its birth to celebrate the fact that they have made it one more year without passing away. This particular day, their “birthday”, is both loved and hated by everyone during the course of their lives.
When they are very young, birthdays are solely for the parent’s sake. Parents throw parties for children who won’t remember it when they get older, basically just so the parents can pat themselves on the back for not screwing up yet.
But within a few short years, these same parents are kicking themselves. Their kids have learned that birthdays mean parties and presents, and they desire both to be magnificent. The upside of this is that at this age, attention spans aren’t long enough to be upset about not getting everything in the world, and within a few days completely forget that any of it ever happened.
Then reaches the teenage years, where it’s less about presents and more about the attention paid to the one who hasn’t died yet. What the teen fails to realize is that these are the last years they will actively look forward to birthdays. After they can legally drink, there are no significant landmarks. Enterprise and Hertz may want you to believe that being able to rent a car is a big deal, but it just isn’t.
Birthdays become mundane for several years. It’s an excuse to throw a party celebrating having not died yet, but otherwise, it is just reaching a new number in the age bracket.
Soon, though, the attitude worsens. People reach a bracket where they feel as though age is their enemy, and birthdays are a weapon used by this enemy. They are a harsh reminder that days of life are numbered, and while the birthday recipient might have avoided dying thus far, that doesn’t mean it’s always been enjoyable.
Something changes, however, in old age. The celebration returns, as survival finally becomes an impressive feat.
Like the moon and your reaction to this analogy, attitudes towards birthdays wax and wane. There is no consistency with birthdays. At one age, we can’t understand why they take forever to get here. At another, they seem to come all too quickly. Over the course of our lives, we both celebrate and mourn because of them.
Imagine, though, if we looked at them for what they were, and treated them as such. If they are a celebration of not dying yet, than congratulations! EVERY SINGLE DAY in which you aren’t shot, stabbed, or blown up marks a day that should be celebrated!
Sure, birthdays can be special events. But everyday is worth celebrating if you stick with the mindset of glorifying that which you are supposed to do. Oh, you ate and drank something in order to keep functioning? And you did it all while continuing to breathe? Let’s get you a cake!
So live that way, kids. Take advantage of today. You are breathing. You are functioning. You have not ceased to exist as of yet. Common animals wouldn’t consider this to be anything special. But you are not a common animal. You are a human being, unique in that you can and will find ways to celebrate LITERALLY anything. So party! Celebrate! Every single one of you has the right to do so. Why? Because today….
Today is YOUR birthday, world.