From all the clothing I wore as an eight-year-old, I remember the silver-and-jean dress clearest. It’s not surprising, considering the fact I wore it solidly, every non-school day, for about seven months. I loved the glittery “adult” belt, though possibly my real attachment to it was due to the love and attention behind the purchase. It was on my special birthday shopping trip with my mother that I had gotten it. With the taste of my bakery birthday treat still on my lips, it was the sweetest, best thing to happen to me.

My real attachment was due to the love and attention behind the purchaseSimilar birthday highlights throughout my childhood years come to mind: alone time with a parent, splurging on fun accessories or Jewish toys, and always a “pick anything that you want” bakery treat.

A little older, and the silver-and-jean dresses got replaced with real jewelry, up-to-date gadgets, and gift certificates at expensive stores. And that’s what made my birthday special. Sure, I kept in mind that this was my Jewish birthday, and accordingly, I added in my good deeds. A trip to an old-age home or giving extra charity was always on that day’s agenda, but it wasn’t the focus per se. Personal happiness was.

Happy Birthday, get it?

Like in the classic birthday song, “Happy Birthday to You.”

I graduated high school, and for the first time I was learning because I wanted to, and not because I had a report to write or a principal standing over me. Insights, dulled after having been heard tens of times, suddenly seemed brilliant. Pertinent. Traditions weren’t test material nor listless rites of habit. They were tools to uncover the deep-set connection between puny little me and my Outstanding Creator.

You can be sure that my next birthday was not spent in the bakery or in the mall. I spent my twenty-four hours secluded in the safe walls of prayer and psalms, and let me tell you, it felt darn good. That’s how a birthday should be spent . . . !

Continuing to learn, I took to heart the idea that I was created intentionally to make a positive difference to my surroundings. I couldn’t be selfish anymore; life was about blasting the world with my mission. And that year’s birthday meant I would have to come up with the biggest, grandest outreach scheme ever. We're not talking everyday stuff here; we’re talking about a birthday charge. I have power, and I better use it! I would bless every single person in my city; I would visit all the Jewish patients in the hospital; I would attend three or four lectures (and give one myself); I would give away for free anything someone complimented me on; I would let the entire supermarket ahead of me in line; I would march into the public schools and tell them all about G‑d; I would cook dinner for my block; and, of course, still wake up at the crack of dawn so I can recite the entire Tehillim (Book of Psalms). Yeah, I know that sounds like a lot, but it’s not every day that it’s your birthday. We say the word all the time, but do we really understand what we’re talking about here? The day I was born! It's huge!

Happy Birth-day, we say.

Like in the classic birthday song, “Happy Birthday to You.”

Yeah, it’s really huge. And really stressful, turns out. I barely managed a small fraction of that before getting burnt out (not to mention my dinner burning). Moreover, I was so concentrated on my “change the world” goal, that I couldn’t manage to phone-chat past the “happy birthday” blessing, I couldn’t bother being patient with my little sister, and I definitely didn’t have time to rummage in my pockets for some stranger who needed change for a dollar. No time for smiles, no time for cake, no time for laughing, and only time for blasting the world with my birthday mission.

No time for smiles, no time for cake, no time for laughing, and only time for blasting the world with my birthday missionUgh, who wants such a stressful birthday?

The classic birthday song references a “Happy Birthday,” not a “Stressful Birthday.”

So we’re back to “happy”? But happiness, fun and gifts didn’t make me feel great either. They left me feeling empty. So now what? No “happy” and no “birthday”! What’s left?

What’s left is the next part of the song, “To You.”

“Happy Birthday to You.”

To me? Of course, to me. It’s my birthday.

Well, let’s see who I really am.

I’ve already learned that I was created and put into this world in order to fulfill a purpose. My grand purpose, like that of every other human being here, is to spread light everywhere I go. No, not through praying a whole day, and not, grand as it seems, through cooking dinner for my block. That’s what cooks are for. And my resume doesn’t mention anything about cooking.

Well, then, how do I spread light?

Let’s go back to my resume.

I’m someone who likes to write, to take photos, to read, to teach, to massage, to laugh, to talk, to travel and to experiment.

So . . . I should spend my birthday just doing regular everyday stuff?

Yes. But, with one small footnote. Do all my regular everyday stuff, but do it for G‑d.

Take photos? Of appropriate subjects. Teach? For need, not fame. Laugh? Never at someone else. Travel? Experiment? In ways that will get me closer to G‑d.

But wait, it’s my birthday! Why should I do it for G‑d?

True, but my real me, the one my inner resume is all about, consists of a piece of G‑d. When G‑d put me into this world, He first blew life into me. From where? From His innermost Essence. And now, my essence is a flaming piece of G‑d.

On my birthday, the day I celebrate my birth, I ought to capitalize on the day’s meaning and power by making sure my every deed is a perfect union of my whole self.

A few days ago, I celebrated my birthday.

I didn’t run off to my room, I didn’t run off to my rabbi, and I definitely didn’t run around cooking dinner for the universe. I walked around, on those special 24 hours, just being me.

So now what? No “happy” and no “birthday”! What’s left?But my real me.

I was excited for my new smoothie flavor, but my real me would be more excited that I not embarrass my brother-in-law, who drank it. So I didn’t.

I have no problem getting up at the crack of dawn to pray, but it sure was a struggle giving that up for the crying baby for whom I was babysitting. Praying a few hours later, with the right concentration, was the real test. And the test that my inner me wanted to see me pass.

The adrenaline of preparing a lecture for an audience of 120 is not present when preparing for a class of seven-year-olds. But am I a lecturer or a kindergarten teacher?

Is my birthday about stopping my life, or about living my life?

Oh, going along with my inner me is a lot less grand than the “me” I generally see on birthdays. No fanfare, no massive productions and no pious hermit lifestyle.

It’s also a lot more work.

But that’s just the point. G‑d didn’t leave me in heaven as an angel; He sent me down here to work. Furthermore, I’m here to work with what I have, not with what Moses or the guy down the block has. That’s why I was given my limbs, my talents, my instincts. They’re mine to use, to choose, and ultimately, to refine.

And, at the end of my birthday, I realized it had honestly been my happiest in years. I was being true to myself, and the peace and confidence it brought gave way to deep happiness.

There is a custom, on a Jewish birthday, to accept upon oneself a good resolution for the upcoming year. This year, my resolution was to continue my birthday for the next twelve months. How? By remembering to utilize every minute and experience I am blessed with, by just being me.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, but it definitely is the most rewarding.

And now? Now I can finally sing the birthday song, the entire birthday song, as it ought to be sung.