When Your Birthday Is September 11th

In the United States, we are identified by our birthdays. It’s asked for when we visit the doctor. It’s on our driver's license and passport.

Our birthdays are the day when certain legal rights and responsibilities are put upon us.

On our 16th birthday, many of us are thinking about getting our driver’s license.

In most states, our 18th birthday is the day  we become legal adults. 18 is a big one. So is 21. The legal drinking age.

Turning 25 brings us to the quarter century mark. After that, the transition to each new decade brings a different phase of life. Each of us makes that transition on the same day each year. It’s our own personal New Year.

For those who love us, it’s like our own personal Valentine’s Day. We get gifts, flowers, cards, a good meal and cake. 

It’s a special day for our parents too. Our arrival that day brought joy and big changes.  Like a personal Thanksgiving, we are thankful for our lives on that day.

Our birthdays are a day of joy, importance, and filled with emotion. The quote below sums it up nicely.

"Never underestimate the immense importance
of someone’s birthday, Sweet Angel,
to that same someone,
on that very day. 

It’s like, really, really HUGE."

But what happens when the world changes on your birthday? What happens when the day that is central to your identity becomes a day that people speak about with loathing and horror? When the actual date becomes synonymous with hell on earth?

For a previous generation, those born on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, learned what that felt like. The article, When Birthday's a Day of Infamy, gives us an idea. Suzanne Strempek Shea writes the following passages:

When asked when my birthday is, I answer “Pearl Harbor Day.” For clarification, I add: “Not the actual one, but 17 years later.” And, for most of my life, people knew exactly what I meant. …

In recent years, when I’ve given my birthday answer of “Pearl Harbor Day,” I’ve gotten a blank look, or another question: “What’s that?” Such a question usually comes from someone 30 or younger, to whom all but the tail end of the 20th century might as well be the time of the pharaohs. I give the basic facts: where the harbor is, what happened, how many were killed, how war was declared. I toss in the infamy line, including the news that, according to William Safire, Roosevelt scratched out the words world history and substituted infamy – and eyes glaze. Few and far between are the responses I once received, including “My father/brother/uncle died there.”

The name for the awful anniversary doesn’t help with recognition. In a
New York Times story titled “A Day to Dance or Weep?,” Aimee Lee Ball three months ago wrote of the confused emotions felt by some whose birthdays coincide with the attacks of Sept. 11.

“The phenomenon is perhaps akin to a Dec. 7 birthday for an earlier generation,” Ball offered, “but unlike Pearl Harbor, 9/11 is an event known by the date it occurred, forming an immediate visceral association.”

That visceral association is something all too real for me. I was born many years before the attacks in 2001, but my birthday is September 11th.

I’ve written about my birthday a few times on this blog. As a writer, how could I not? Each year I feel a bit differently about it. With the 10th anniversary of the attacks being remembered this year, it adds to the mixed feelings.

I have some birthday plans that I’m looking forward to. Yet, I wonder if we’ll be attacked again. What will happen? So much sadness. All the loss. Should I try and tune out all media? Is that even possible?

My mother gave me some insight today. “It was such a wonderful day when you were born. My first child. My daughter. It was a special day. Now I have mixed emotions, but I do have a demarcation in my heart, so that I can separate the joy from the anguish. I think it’s important to keep the celebration and just know that the celebration is inside our home.” 
Dahlia Gruen turned 10 on the day of the attacks. She created a website called BirthdaySpirit.org for people born on September 11th, so that we can celebrate the goodness born on a tragic date. On the website, people can express some of the emotion with having 9/11 as their birth date. Below are some quotes from the site.

"It's nice to commiserate with someone who knows what it feels like to wake up on your day of celebration to the sound of memorial dirges on the radio or TV... Now having a place to let those thoughts out makes me get ready to celebrate my birthday."

"Thank you so much for creating this site; it is so good to know that I am not alone. I have stopped celebrating my birthday because of all the negative responses from my peers and other people. Thanks to this inspiring site, I decided to celebrate my birthday this year. Thank you for your kindness and support."

Sharon Schneider, who also has a September 11th birthday, writes on her blog that she’ll be running the Chicago Half Marathon and raising money to donate to charity.

Life can be so difficult, but there is much beauty too. We must find ways of finding good within each tragedy, so we can go on. Maybe the September 11 birthdays are the light within the dark. 

Christina-Taylor Green was born on September 11, 2001. From what I’ve read about her, she was a joyful, smart, beautiful little girl, who wanted to go into politics when she grew up. She was killed during the shooting spree in Arizona when she went to see Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Scholarship was created by Running Start, a nonprofit group dedicated to educating young women about politics. So even in Christina’s short life that started on a fateful day, she continues doing good and making a difference.

Some say that there is spiritual component to the day of our birth and suggest that it’s the day to find our life purpose. While I’m not sure that I know the exact purpose of my life, I know that writing is part of it.

And as I blow out the candles on my birthday cake, or maybe cupcakes, this Sunday, my birthday wish will include a remembrance and a prayer.
*Updated 9/12/11* There are several Facebook pages for people with 9/11 birthdays. Here are links to a couple: Yes My Birthday Is on 9/11, My birthday is on 9/11. Also, singer Moby has the same birthday. It's taken him a while to begin celebrating his birthday on the actual day, but he's back on track!

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Nichole said…
Happy Birthday, Lisa! Enjoy it and have an extra cupcake for me. Maybe I'll see you next Sunday. I can reach out to Luz to see if she's still hosting. If I can't find her email, I'll let you know.
Lisa Johnson said…
nichole - Thank you friend! : )
Kim said…
Happy birthday! My birthday is today also and I know exactly how you feel. I think this year is particularly hard with the 10th anniversary. I've been told this week that I am heartless and rude because I don't want to focus on the "911" part of the day, don't get me wrong, I will hold a moment to think about everyone affected, but there is other stuff I would like to focus on today.
Lisa Johnson said…
kim - Happy Birthday and welcome to the blog! I agree about the 10th anniversary being a bit harder. There is so much focus this year. I think all of us with this birthday have compassion for the victims and their families, but we have to find some happiness and joy for our day too. If anything, what happened made us realize that life is too short to not make every day count. Whoever called you heartless and rude needs to take a serious look in the mirror.
Nance said…
Happy Belated Birthday, Lisa. I hope you had joy, laughter, and, of course, cake! I think it is vital to balance the sorrow with joy. You and all other Birthday Celebrants owe it to the universe!
Lisa Johnson said…
nance - Thank you! I had a great day and way too much eating. I'm doing a liquid diet today to get back to feeling normal. I did my part to add some more happy to the universe! ; )

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