While in Africa on a mission trip, our group had the honor of attending the inaugural graduation of the school we were visiting. Streamers more resembling dyed toilet paper compared to the brightly colored party streamers we are accustomed to, draped the sides of the party tents. Chairs were laid out for the proud parents of the graduates and the local news there to capture the momentous event. Finally, the anxious grads began their processional into the ceremony area in the field next to the school. Except they didn’t walk in with the pomp and circumstance we see at an American graduation, instead, they came in dancing and singing. Imagine the scene from Remember the Titans where they entered the stadium singing and dancing in unison if you will. As the graduates entered the whole crowd joined in on the singing and dancing. Many of these students were the first graduates in their families and the joy and accomplishment the graduates felt was evident. It was a moment of pure joy and celebration.
I learned something as I watched those graduates rejoice in this grand moment, we’re missing out. This celebrating thing we are doing all wrong. In our society, we seem to acknowledge all the little milestones of a child, but then we grow up and deem ourselves not worthy of acknowledgment. My Facebook feed is lined with pictures of babies wearing little stickers to commemorate each month of life only to be photographed with a stuffed animal for growth comparison and chalkboard of recent accomplishments.
We celebrate it all when someone is new to this world and hitting all the milestones. However, as we grow out of youth and into adulthood we seem to stop reveling in this life we are living and I believe our culture has it all wrong. We throw a party for preschool graduation these days and no one really had to work hard to finish preschool. Yet, as adults, we work hard to accomplish a goal only to not honor our hard work despite all the effort we put into achieving our goal. As if by mentioning our accomplishments we become annoyingly boastful and everyone will find us annoying.
The last few years of my life has been filled with honoring two things; weddings, and babies. I have been to more engagement and wedding showers than I care to mention. I have even planned a few myself. While these life moments are fantastic, wonderful and worthy of celebrating, I hesitate to call them accomplishments despite our culture’s celebration of them. They’re just life moments some of us get.
I’m 30 and my friends have stopped celebrating birthdays. It makes my heart sad to think we no longer find ourselves worthy of honoring. We don’t even have to work hard at turning a year older; it’s just given to us. Occasionally a birthday dinner will find its way into my planner, but these birthday dinners are often met with half the group unable to attend and no gifts brought by those that do. It’s more or less, just a dinner with friends. Some years I don’t even bother planning a birthday dinner for myself because the pain of my friends not attending was too much to bare. When you are single, you are no one’s priority, and you think for maybe one day, you could be on your birthday.
As a single girl, it’s painful to walk into a friend’s house and see all the gifts they’ve been given for hitting life’s milestones I have yet to hit. I have mix-matched cups and hand me down plates. I know life isn’t about material goods, but those goods represent a celebration held in someone’s honor and I haven’t been given such honors. The truth is, deep down inside I really want a nice plate set too.
This unbalanced celebration has left those of us who are unmarried feeling less than. As if our accomplishments we have worked for don’t measure up. My accomplishments are met with a few words of affirmation and maybe a pat on the back. No parties held in my honor unless I host it myself, no gifts from the heart, but maybe a small gift or two. When I moved, I stocked my own pantry and bought my own bed sheets.
We as a culture need to start doing what your mother’s cake plate says and celebrate everything. From little accomplishments to big giant ones that took months or years to achieve. This year, if a friend does something out of bravery, honor them. Show up to the birthday dinner with a gift that shows your friend they matter or even offer to host it. Your single friends need big gestures of love too. Let’s not just rejoice when a friend is married and starting a family. Celebrate all of it. From the little accomplishments to the big ones we worked hard for. Let’s also not be afraid to toot our own horn a little when we achieve our goals. Our lives are worthy of a celebration. Life’s too short not to dance and skip out on the cake.