On my birthday, I often experience mixed feelings—on the one hand, I wish I could escape to a lonely island; on the other hand, the extra attention does feel good. Either way, I’ll say with Todd Stocker: “A happy birthday is measured not in the amount of gifts one gets, but in the amount one is loved.”
Paolo, a dear friend and colleague of mine for the last 18 years, has made it a point and a personal goal to remember people’s birthdays either through a phone call or an SMS. He keeps a list and updates it as he meets new people.
Businesspeople, politicians, housewives, students, lonely elderly people, rich or poor, famous or obscure, everyone’s heart is the same, and everyone has a need for genuine love. I’ve been able to witness it personally by observing people’s reactions to these birthday wishes.
Two years ago, a lonely widow burst into tears when she received that phone call wishing her a happy birthday, and she has brought up that call on many occasions since. To her it represented a turning point in the difficult process of inner healing after her husband passed away and she had to live all alone in a remote area. She said she felt so much love and concern in that unexpected phone call that it brought her heart back to life again.
I’ll admit it’s not as simple as it seems, as some mornings you wake up wanting to just think about yourself and don’t feel like making the effort to cheer up someone else on their birthday. I say this because Paolo’s example influenced me, and some time ago I also embraced the “birthday tradition,” even though my list is still much smaller than his.
Sometimes I don’t feel like making that phone call, but the reaction usually more than repays my effort, and I discover once again that it doesn’t take much to bring a little cheer to someone’s life. A few times, I realized that my simple words really made someone’s day and that I was possibly the only person who remembered. Or I found out they had just experienced some difficult time in their lives, a loss or a sickness. And when I hung up, all I could say was: “Thank God I made that phone call!” Truly, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”1