Institutional Birthday Cards

17 days to 50.


I received this card in the mail today and it made me want to cry. For the last several weeks I have received “birthday” cards from all kinds of companies. Most offer super sweet special birthday “discounts” on whatever stuff they have for sale.

It’s your special day! Save 20% on any gratuitous kitchen appliance!

The most spectacular card to date was from the University of North Dakota, asking me as I reflect on this “milestone birthday” to pull out some happy happy joyous feelings of nostalgia and write a large successful check. The premise, I am sure, is that since it has been so long since I graduated from their fine institution that I must be wildly prosperous enough to donate a large amount of money to them, but also, that my memory has deteriorated enough to forget how much that school and their parking enforcement personnel tortured me.

These cards (and e-mails for those not firmly dedicated to customer service) started arriving weeks before my actual birthday. I tossed the first few away without much thought but now that the actual birthday is looming nearer and nearer, the cards seem more sinister and more urgent. I wonder if I go out and save 25% on the “item of my choice” if it will ease the pain of another birthday. Thankfully they are not recommending youthful items. Imagine if I only received cards offering me discounts on wrinkle serums or support hose.

It could be my World Domination Summit hangover that is contributing to this general feeling of corporate birthday card malaise. Spending the weekend with 3,000 people dedicated to connection really highlights the fact that Anthropologie or Coach or Williams-Sonoma don’t at all care if it’s my birthday, they are just capitalizing on the fact that I might be feeling sad and old and lonely and this is of course the perfect opportunity to sell me something so that I will temporarily be happy! Yay! I don’t have to be sad because I am getting older because I just saved $35.00 on a new pair of JEANS!

I realize I receive more “birthday wishes” from companies that pull my name from a database than I do from imperfect breathing human beings. In a world filled with disconnection where I spend more time in my car than I do communicating with the people I truly love this is disillusioning.

I will celebrate this birthday. I will share it with the people I love. I will not hide under the covers and pretend it isn’t happening. 50 years. Half a century. It is time to connect with the people in my life who can support me through this. Sadly, Coach, AAA, and Williams-Sonoma, that doesn’t mean you.

The question now is how long before the AARP cards start coming?

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