This year I’m spending my birthday alone in Kuala Lumpur.
I don’t particularly enjoy cities, and this one seems especially uninspired, but my Indonesian visa expired and I needed a cheap ticket out of Bali.
So here I am.
When I think back on the expectations I once had surrounding my birthday, it’s hard to recognize that I’m even the same person.
I remember in middle school when the number of balloons tied to my backpack symbolized how liked I felt. In high school when I cried because my boyfriend did not distinguish between my birthday and Valentine’s day. All the years after when not enough people came to my parties, the gifts I received did not make me feel loved enough, and when despite my intentions my day was simply not perfect enough.
It’s not difficult to identify the flaws in my thinking.
Last year, two weeks after returning to Seattle to celebrate my nephew’s first year of life, I celebrated my 26th. Despite my year of self-growth traveling the world, again I felt the pressure of doing something “special.” Yet the entire experience was stressful and ultimately a let down. Convinced that the problem was my surroundings, that night I vowed that by my 27th birthday I would be in Bali.
As traveling has shown me time and time again, life never goes according to plan. So this year when Indonesian immigration stamped my passport until February 11th, declaring that I would not in fact spend my birthday in Bali, I decided not to make any.
In fact, it’s now 8pm here in Kuala Lumpur, on the day of my birth, and I have no idea where I’m eating dinner, if I’m going out, and who I will spend my evening with. If anyone at all.
And while it’s easy to allow myself to slip down the path of fantasy about what I might be doing with friends and family in Seattle, with my traveling soul sisters who are still in Bali, with my little community in Lombok, or in Puerto Viejo my one true home, I am actually here in Kuala Lumpur and I am making the best of that.
Something I’ve realized this year is that I’d rather be surprised by the magic of what is than disappointed with the reality of what isn’t. So without any expectations, I’m shutting down my laptop, walking out the door, and seeing what magical surprises I might find.
If I want to eat bubbling hot laksa in a back alley or drink an expensive cocktail at the top of a tower, I can. If I decide to spend my night chatting excitedly with other backpackers or holing myself up in my dorm room, well, I can. What greater gift could I hope for on my birthday than this absolute freedom?
Here’s to 27 and another year of the unexpected.