I’ve always loved birthdays. For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent my birthday with my parents and my closest friends. My freshman year of college was the first year that I wasn’t able to do both, so the the COVID-19 pandemic initially made me think that being home for my birthday this year was going to be fun.
When it was announced that social distancing measures would be extended through April 30, it became clear to me that I was going to be celebrating my 20th birthday on April 13 at home.
The global pandemic has dramatically changed the way that birthdays are celebrated. What is supposed to be a day of celebration has turned into a day in isolation.
My friends are scattered throughout the country, from the East Coast to the Midwest. We’ve all been talking to each other over FaceTime and Zoom to keep up with each other's lives. Even though we are physically distant, it doesn't mean that we have to be emotionally distant. We've been checking in on one another a few times a week, which makes the distance feel smaller.
I’ve never been one for a quiet birthday. So, I decided that the best way to celebrate would be to throw a party on Zoom.
I messaged my friends in group chats the night before, asking them to join me on Zoom the following evening. I told them that they were welcome to log on and off the call whenever they pleased. As the evening approached, I bombarded friends with frantic texts saying, “Come to my Zoom birthday party!” with the link and access codes.
I was nervous that no one would show up, but they did.
A few of my friends were on promptly at 7 p.m. 10 minutes into the call, four more joined. At most, I had 10 of my friends on the call.
We talked about how I'd been celebrating my birthday, which included ice cream cake with my parents and watching Beyoncé's "Homecoming" film on Netflix. We discussed how everyone's classes were going and reminisced about times we'd had together back at IU. Interestingly enough, COVID-19 didn't even come up.
One of my friends from home and a friend from IU worked together to compile a video of all of my friends wishing me happy birthday. I thanked those that had appeared in the video since a lot of them were on the call. My friends took turns displaying photos of me as their backgrounds (thanks, guys). Friends logged on and off and we laughed and talked for about an hour, which was exactly what I needed.
Although I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t celebrate in person, I still felt so loved and appreciated by my friends. One of my friends even wore a shirt from a retreat that we’d attended together to keep me in his thoughts.
This birthday celebration was one of the most special ones that I've had because my friends took the time to log in to Zoom to wish me a happy birthday during a time of isolation, uncertainty and frustration. There was no cake, no balloons or streamers. It was just a group of people who I love, talking and laughing together. That's all I could ever ask for.
Celebrations are about love. When you can’t have the opportunity to connect with loved ones as you usually do, it’s important to remember that in times of dramatic change and uncertainty, love is one of the only constants that we have.