My immediate family numbers five and most of us have our birthdays clumped very closely together.
My birthday precedes that of my father’s by exactly three weeks, and three weeks to the day after my father’s birthday is my mother’s. In between my birthday and my father’s is my youngest brother’s and nine months to the day from mine is my other brother’s. If you were into conspiracy theorist, this would be fertile ground indeed.
Instead, it means that occasionally during this time of year, my two brothers and I who communicate at best sporadically during the year, relying on the fact that once a year we all meet up for Xmas, will get online and chat.
My recent birthday was a master class in our disparate family, which is spread across multiple time zones, coming together to have a chat. My first birthday greeting was from my husband, who lives with me. Then came a text message from my mother on behalf of both my parents. They live around twenty minutes’ drive away. As I was sending a reply to my mother, my tablet pinged with a message from my brother in Sydney. Sydney is three hours ahead so it had been my birthday there for a while. We were in the middle of a chat when another ping alerted me that my other brother was online. He lives in Thailand- a whole hour behind me and four behind my other brother.
For a while I sat happily outside, chatting with both brothers online and my mother on phone text message, then my husband appeared with his phone: his mum, from Ireland, sending her love as well. I have always had a problem with birthday cards. It is nice to get them, but I always feel guilty about throwing them away – even if there is little point in keeping them. To me, this frenzy of activity on the morning of my birthday was better than cards in a postbox. I got to talk with the people I loved and share a few laughs too, but it doesn’t replace the need physical correspondence completely.
Today it was my brother’s turn. I chatted online to him for a bit and so did my other brother, and in a short while it will be my father’s turn again, although sadly, despite having a big heart scare some years ago, he is last all of his childhood friends, having outlived them.
I used to write a lot of letters, and to be honest, everytime I move house, my packing reaches a halt when I get to the box with the correspondence I have kept. Letters serve as diary entries as well as sharing of news and ideas, and I had one particular correspondent who became a dear friend through our letter writing. The problem these days wth instant communication is that it exisits in the moment and keeping a record of it is not going to be the same as a box of letters in a shoe box.
For birthdays, the most important thing for me is to be in touch with those that are important to you – family and close friends, but the value of a letter, written perhaps as part of a long discussion over a variety of shared interests – it would be a pity to lose that.