All birthdays are special.
All cousins are special.
But this is not about all birthdays or all cousins. This is about one cousin – one birthday.
Blurred in my summer memories are old Minnesota summers. I don’t know how many were spent celebrating this day, this cousin. I don’t remember parties or cakes. I’m sure there were cards signed. I’m sure there were gifts given. I’m sure there were phone calls called.
What I do remember, what I know, is that it’s someone’s birthday today. Someone who has no clue, no inkling that his life, influence, and interaction with my life has been meaningful. With only four years between us, chronologically in the cousin count, we were rather close together. That meant there were multiple times when I was teased, tickled, and tackled. There were numerous times when I was awestruck, annoyed, and adored. And then there were times when the age difference was great – when it felt that I was light-years younger.
The day came when college called that cousin away – away from Minnesota life and hockey. Sometimes that marks the end – the time when life changes too drastically and friendships and families forget to stay in touch. That was not the case.
When this cousin headed east and entered his first year of college, I was entering my first year of high school. Odd that we were both entering new stages the same year. Vastly different stages. But this thing happened – this new friendship bloomed. Thanks to AIM (that dates me), Cousin “B” and I chatted – exchanged stories – old and new. From his Ivy League dorm, he typed. From the family computer, I absorbed. I enjoyed those talks. I enjoyed those hours spent in front of the computer – laughing and learning – learning about my older cousin – his past, present, and future. And he told me things – college level advice on how to survive high school – classes and boys. Some advice was ridiculous – like when he told me to send the boy I liked flowers…some advice was generic and biased – Braveheart is the best movie.
And some advice was exactly what I needed to hear. Struggling with decisions on colleges and choosing a major and listing off the advice received from multiple sources, I typed away my troubles to Cousin “B.” And he listened (or watched?). He then gave me advice, advice I’ll never forget, advice I accepted and still live by. Popping up in my AIM window, he told me to basically forget the advice of everyone else and to just do what I wanted to do – do what would make me happy and not worry about the type of career, the title, or the prestige. Do it because I wanted to. Not because people told me to. Or because professionals and job-analysts said it was a “good career.” So I did. I chose a college and a major (though I switched the major a few times but always, always switched to something because it was what I wanted, never what others told me to want) because of an AIM conversation.
I remember my mom sharing a conversation she had with her sister, the mother of this cousin. It was during one of Grandma’s surgeries (a surgery I had told Cousin “B” about via AIM). My mom said how much I enjoyed talking to Cousin “B” – how the conversations were special to me. And Cousin “B’s” mom agreed – agreed that the conversations were indeed special – and Cousin “B” also enjoyed them.
That was many years ago. But the impact of those late-night AIM conversations linger. The memories of those words still ring in my head whenever I start hearing a lot of voices – a lot of advice on what to do and where to go from well-meaning and smart sources. It may be along the same lines as Cousin “B’s” advice, it may be “better” or more “insightful,” but it will never be as good. It will never mean as much.
AIM conversations fizzled out. And distance still separates us. Four years will always be the age difference. But four years – his four in college, my four in high school – were four years in which age didn’t matter.
So, on this day, this grateful cousin wishes to send her thanks and birthday wishes out east to a certain Birthday Boy.