I don’t know about you, but when I get birthday notifications about Facebook friends, a small space opens in my brain, which begins to tread water in a sad sort of perplexed way, wondering if I actually know this person — “know” not in the Biblical sense, but “know” in the ordinary, pre-social media sense of “ever met or talked to.” If it seems I do, or should — or even if we have mutual “friends” and this person might possibly know my name — I pony up the all-purpose three-word Happy Birthday-exclamation point-emoticon greeting. A low bar, I know, but appropriate to the medium.
A notification I got over the weekend was especially challenging because, after the requisite treading, I realized the birthday girl was not only a stranger to me, but dead, and not recently. Which answered the question of whether I should send a “Happy Birthday, XXX! :)” wish and reminded me of the vast universe of potential embarrassments I have not even imagined and might yet commit. And made me wonder, also, if I somehow friended this woman after she died, though — to be honest — there’s something to be said for an approach that solves a lot of relationship problems before they arise.
I have not made public my birthday on Facebook — which I use exclusively and shamelessly to distribute these posts — because I want to avoid the inverse problem: receiving celebratory greetings from people I then have to wonder if I know, or should know, or might “know” through mutual “friends,” or whose names I possibly know. Or, from people who may even be dead and gone to The Bad Place, because I cannot imagine social media existing in Heaven any more than telephone hold systems, which lie shamelessly: Your call is not important to them, or they’d just answer the phone. And I do not want to cultivate connections with people from Hell; I’ve done that, and — trust me — it’s very sticky.
Anyway, I wanted to report my humiliation near-miss, an impulse that reminded me of how happy I am that you’re out there, and how grateful I am that you keep reading and sweetening my days — my life, really — with the gift of your attention and engagement. If it’s your birthday today, or tomorrow, or any of the other 363 days in the year ahead of us, well: a very Happy Birthday to you, and depthless good wishes for the day and the rest of your mysterious unfolding life, forever invisible to me, but not unfelt.
Although we may not be friends — even by Facebook’s impoverished standard — you have been friendly toward me, and there is no kinder gesture in all the world. Thank you.