Sunday, June 13

The word birthday | The weekly country



What do we comply with, what do we comply with when we have our birthday? Sometimes something very common is strange to you; a common word becomes strange, it becomes a question. We turn years: as if slipping through time were a task, something that everyone could or could not accomplish. We turn years: as if someone had made a promise —and faced the moment to keep it. We are serving years: like someone who is serving a sentence, with that force of the inevitable. It is another strange form of language, another way of not knowing what we say when we say it.

Hispanics have birthdays; many others do not. Angles have birthday, the day of birth; Germans, birthday, plus day of birth; The Portuguese, birthday, and the French, anniversary, so unspecific; only Italians, among the neighbors, say birthday “And maybe we inherited it from them.”

And its verb also looks like but not: turn years it comes to be getting, completing years. One might suspect that the phrase is an effect of those times when death was always so close that each passing year was an achievement, a surprise.

Now, instead, birthday is becoming more and more banal. It is not a value judgment; is an account. Among all the changes in our civilization, none more impressive than the prolongation of our lives — and their hopes. Among all the decisive activities of a person, few have multiplied as much as living, fulfilling more years. A hundred years ago, everyone could imagine that such a thing would happen to him fifty or sixty times in his life; now it is reasonable to expect eighty or ninety.

But not by repeated the moment loses its brilliance. Every year, each person has 364 foreign days and one of their own: the birthday is the individual manifestation of that general order that we have marked for ourselves, according to which we live accompanying the sun, in 365-day cycles where everything ends each time, begins each time. time and repeat. Birthday is the moment when that cycle becomes personal history, when we relive what we had lived a year ago and ten years ago and we live, at the same time, an unrepeatable moment: we will never be six, sixty, forty-seven again. years. On each birthday the repeated and the unique are confused, they mix very strangely: they show that nothing is repeated, nothing is unique.

So the birthday is a time of celebration and a complicated drink, a day of celebration and balance. There are people who detest it, others who wait for it, many who detest it and wait for it; people who hide it and others who display it ruthlessly. It is good to have a birthday and, at the same time, we do not have to do anything to achieve it and we cannot avoid it – but with very extreme measures.

But we take it as something perfectly common, irremediable, and it is and it is not: there are many who do not have. This ritual that seems so normal, so natural, is also the privilege of the rich. Accustomed to the fact that we all have it, that we all know our age, I ran into surprises at first in Africa or India when I asked interviewees their ages. So many times they looked at me as you look at a silly stranger: what was I talking about? So many, like an arrogant white boy: another thing that I had that they didn’t, another thing to humiliate them? Knowing when you were born — not just celebrating it — supposes a good registration system, a certain education, the idea that everyone deserves a day every now and then: a whole idea of ​​the world.

You have something, you think others do too: it happens a lot. The greatest privilege is not even knowing you have it. After all, birthday is, like all of them, just one word, four syllables that threaten the most — because they speak of the inevitable. It is, of course, pure chance that it has happened to me these days. Even if that was why I began to think about the word and was suddenly surprised by its strangeness. But we already know: there is nothing stranger than a word that we use all the time.


elpais.com

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