The days are counting down to that fateful moment the power goes off and the lines of communication are struck dumb and useless.
This isn’t an armageddon scenario or even a cynically paranoid delusion of a new world order. Rather, it’s my annual ritual of disconnection.
All year, I spend countless hours on the phone, texting, IMing, emailing, posting messages on populist websites destined to float in the glut of drivel slowly churning in the morass that is the internet. It’s draining to say the least. My eyes and body feel it as though they were chained to my neck, my own personal technological albatross dragging me toward slack-jawed oblivion. I take certain joy in the vegetative states which I opt into, but it comes at a very tangible cost.
Most of the year, my time plugged in is limited by life. Work, play, sports, travel, and, most importantly, friends all intercede to keep my ass from fusing to my chair and my eyes from burning irradiated into nothingness. Every once in a while a day comes along where I never start moving, where I choose a game and find myself, hours later, still static and clicking. Yet even this is nothing in comparison to that fateful day in which every virtual line tethered to my being begin jingling with communication.
For me, there is no time in which more people try to reach me, more digital messages are slung in my direction, than my birthday. It’s as though the one day I want to just let be in its perfection is destroyed by its very nature. It can’t be blamed on my friends or family, their good natured wishes just that. Added all together, it becomes a flood of contact, a charging rhinoceros threatening to leave me trampled in its wake. Any chance of relaxation is quickly lost to fretting and social paranoia, and the entirety of my id and ego collapses into the black hole of my superego.
As a child, I hated that no one was there, that I was left with my family, alone in my ennui (though I didn’t learn the term for the experience until after my eleventh birthday). My friends would disappear with their families for the holiday weekend, my solitude both virtual and palpable. I appreciated the moments I could spend with others, but my birthday itself was a reminder that their allegiances lay elsewhere. Overseas and at camp, it was easier to surround myself with others. Our friendships were mostly of convenience, but at least I would be acknowledged if they didn’t lack the prerequisite understanding.
By the time I finished high school, I had come to embrace my philosophical solitude. I avoided mentioning my birthday or planning events. I began to try hard to disappear into the routine of the day rather than care about something so arbitrary as dates and age and acknowledgement. I sought work that would tie up my time and give me excuses not to bother. After all, I pondered as I realized how unimportant my birthday was to others, what is the value of time or date beyond a small smudge of paint blazing a well-known trail.
At Passover, the four questions are why is this day not like all other days; in the case of my birthday, there wasn’t a good answer. I am not someone special. I have yet to accomplish anything important. I, simply put, am undeserving of even the semblance of a holiday in my honor. To waste time and effort on me not only falsely builds ego, but leaves others in unnecessary want.
These were the words in varied configurations that coursed through my mind.
It wasn’t long before I took my penchant for distraction and enveloped it fully formed. I chose jobs as much for the need to disconnect as for the money or joy of work. When I did attend parties or events, it was as just another anonymous member of the crowd. I found great joy, an almost perverse thrill in my secret knowledge. It didn’t feel dangerous or surprising, but it allowed me a certain leeway to relax that I couldn’t experience before. I began seeking out this anonymity, experiencing praise for my actions or words rather than for the position of the sun and the passage of time. I felt I was earning rather than simply accepting what was put in front of me.
When people bothered to point out my birthday, I was left with an unpleasant combination of anger and resultant guilt. Every call, note, or gift came with a plethora of consequences I neither wanted to ponder nor deal with. And so many simply came with the sly underhanded desire for returned acknowledgement for their amazingly selfless act. There were and are, of course, exceptions, but even the smallest gestures seemed to overwhelm me with thoughts of repayment.
Soon, my birthday had become a full-blown disconnect from the world. I was limited, controlled, locked into a perfect bubble of physical space. To speak to me, see me, or make plans with me was to be near me. I could see the eyes of my compatriots and feel their words. I had, in a way I had never been capable of as a child, created a means of connection.
Doing so, as with every action, had unintended consequences. Most prominently, my parents, on more than one occasion, forgot or misunderstood this tradition and felt slighted. They were not the only ones. But my decision is not an affront. On a day others tell me is my day, I had finally actually made it mine in a way.
Next week, my birthday arrives once more and, as always, I am prepared. I will, for one day, shut down and log off, living solely in the moment. I will, for one day, let messages pile up by choice instead of random points of no service. I will, for one day, make no effort to connect to the world at large, instead allowing the world at large to find me if it cares.
For this one very ordinary day, my birthday, I will bask in a reality that isn’t virtual or distant or disconnected. And it will be glorious.
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