2020 | Coronavirus Chronicles

Coronavirus Chronicles: My 57th birthday during the pandemic

‘I stepped out to see 12 friends in the street, wearing homemade masks, standing a suitable distance from one another and singing “Happy Birthday” to me.’

The essay author, Julia Wilson

FROM Julia Wilson

(Editor’s note: This essay is part of Bethesda Beat’s Coronavirus Chronicles personal essay series. Visit the submission page to learn more.)

By the age of 57, birthdays are not about gifts and cake.

Gifts are appreciated, but by 57, flowers and a bottle of wine is often enough. As long as they are accompanied by plentiful gestures of love and friendship.

When I was young, I used to think of my number of friends as an indicator of popularity. But now that I’m 57, I’ve started to think about who I really enjoy spending time with and who always offers hands of support.

The Greeks called this Philia, or “friendship,” without which there can be no happiness. By year 57, I understand what the Greeks understood.

This year, my spring birthday came with new foliage, noted as I paced around my yard.

Sometimes I would venture outside the gate to admire other gardens, but that pleasure was tempered by questions like “Mask or no mask?” and “Can you get COVID from petting a dog?”

At 56, walks were an opportunity to meet up with neighbors and enjoy a relaxed conversation, reveling in social connectedness.

At 57, when I stop to talk to neighbors, I instinctively take backward steps while talking about topics like the coronavirus vaccine.

This year, on my birthday, my neighbor texted: “Come outside.”

I stepped out to see 12 friends in the street, wearing homemade masks, standing a suitable distance from one another and singing “Happy Birthday” to me.

On my porch sat a bouquet of garden flowers, a bottle of wine and, being a COVID birthday, a roll of toilet paper, a mask, an anxiety-fighting coloring book and a coffee mug saying ‘it’s all going to be f—ing ok.’

Philia.

Julia Wilson is a retired lactation consultant and is a student at Johns Hopkins University’s Master’s in Fiction Writing program. She lives in Glen Echo.


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