For my first twenty eight years I celebrated my birthday, today in fact, with my sister. The sharing of a birthday makes it less a narcissistic celebration of self and more a celebration of self hood, the acknowledgment of a shared primordial experience of birth, blood, tears, and laughter.
Sadly, my sister died of a drug overdose when she was twenty eight, just a little over a month after our birthday. Most birthdays I make sure I raise a glass to her and reflect on what she, her friends, family, and I have missed due to her early departure. It isn’t morose or depressing, more a thanks for having known her and an acknowledgment of how she is missed.
With the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman earlier this week there has been a lot of chatter about the pain of addiction and the nobility of recovery. He tried but failed, the press about his death is an tragedy to other struggling addicts, the press about his death is an inspiration to other struggling addicts, or perhaps he was doomed anyway, the victim of being a sensitive man in an insensitive brutish society. The discourse of addiction is one of regret, failure and transcendence and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, being a great actor but a flawed human, fits very nicely into the ideal of a martyr, killed by the pain of being alive in a post-capitalist world defined by success, failure, and nice things.
Hoffman’s death serves as a reminder for us sensitive souls that life can be hard and we need to take care of ourselves and the ones that we love. And also as a tragic spectacle, a car crash of human proportions.
When a public figure dies early of a drug problem, sexual neurosis, or by their own hand, we’re allowed to reflect and seek comfort that even they, the greats, feel the pain that sometimes bites us as we wake in the morning or shut our eyes to go to sleep. It justifies any addiction to alcohol, chocolate, mastubation, shopping, twitter, Facebook, nipple tweaking, reading, writing, prescription drugs, work, spreadsheets, or cycling. It says, life is painful, look at them, you’re ok, you’re lucky.
And that is the overwhelming feeling I have each birthday now. I’m grateful that unlike my sister, I get to celebrate my birthday every year, and in doing so remember her, her life, and the missed birthdays.
Love all those around you, and live every moment.