To My Friends Who Wished Me a Happy Birthday on Facebook
Updated: May 12
Sixty friends wished me a happy birthday on Facebook earlier this week. Every year I am surprised and touched that so many friends from the past would take even a moment to send a kind wish toward me.
I fully understand that they were reminded by Facebook to do it, that they were not keeping track of my birthday. I fully understand that it takes about one click and less than five seconds to do it. We aren't talking about any kind of serious investment in our relationships.
And yet, there is a moment of choice -- a brief instant when people choose between, "Screw Shelly Albaum, I can think of a non-trivial mistake he made, and there's 50 things about him I don't like," or worse, "He did a seriously bad thing in eighth grade and I will never forgive him," and, on the other hand, "I remember him, and, despite all that the world has been, I wish him well." And 60 -- 60! -- chose the higher road of kindness and forgiveness.
It just boggles me.
Sixty is a small fraction of my 634 Facebook friends, and the smallest number of birthday wishes I have had in years. That's no doubt partly because we have all been badly scathed by a political season that needed us to be at our best but brought out our worst. Plus, people really are leaving Facebook, and with good cause.
Some of those 634 people never met me and don't remember how they got on my friends list. Some weren't on Facebook that day. Or didn't notice the birthday prompt. Or they have decided not to dance to the tune of a giant corporation orchestrating ritualized social interactions.
I do not assume negative intent from non-participants. My wife did not wish me a happy birthday on Facebook. Nor did my kids. Not my siblings or my mom. Not a single immediate relative. Maybe they reached out some other way, but I don't doubt anyone's affection for not dropping by on Facebook on May 4 (except for those who unfriended me -- I'm not in complete denial).
There are no demerits for late birthday wishes, either -- if anything, those people who weighed in a day or so later came with the courage of conviction.
So I would like to do a small thing in return for you 60 kind people who blessed me in a tiny way.
I have encountered several books in my life that have improved me significantly -- they did not improve me enough, as you all well know, but it would have been worse, believe me. These are books that I think would really be of joy or of assistance to others. Life-changing, actually.
If there is a blessing in the time of CoronaVirus it is that with the suspension of many kinds of busy-ness, there is more time for reading than there would otherwise have been. And reading, if you can clear a little temporal space around a comfortable physical space, is the original edification of humans.
So I absolutely guaranty that at least one of the following five books would change your life for the better, if you let it in. My gift to you, this May 4, is that invitation.
1. The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles), by Patrick Rothfuss
I don't read Fantasy and would never recommend it, but this book is different. There is no doubt that Rothfuss is the greatest storyteller of the 21st century, and this book reveals more with every re-read. I've read books 1 & 2 five times each. For readers, they are a joy. For writers, they are a master class. Warning: the final book in the trilogy hasn't been released, so there comes a suspense of indeterminate length after Book 2.
2. Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker
Evolution would have selected out sleep if there were any possible way to do it, so you know that sleeping is important and indispensable. But this book explains the science of why sleeping is far more important than anyone realized, and how the effects of even very minor sleep disturbances -- like just missing one hour of sleep on one night -- can lead to surprisingly measurable, and even disastrous consequences. If you read this book, you will take sleeping very seriously.
3. A People's History of the United States, by Howard Zinn
If you're like me, you got burned in high school American History class by a boring textbook and had to memorize a bunch of Presidents and Acts of Congress that made no sense (with apologies to Mark Ferris's dad; it wasn't his fault). This is a riveting account of what was really going on -- it's the History Class we all should have had. The book is routinely assigned in college American history classes, but if you missed it for any reason, go back and set right this one thing. Your eyes will pop open, I swear it.
4. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
This book is getting long in the tooth, and Covey's dead. But it's still the essential starting place for making something of your life. This is considered a business book, but Covey smuggled into the corporate world something much more spiritual and powerful than that. It was so essential where I worked that it was everyone's Bible, so I am always surprised at how many people have never even heard of it. Smuggle this back out of the corporate world and into your life. It will make you powerful, whether you want to run a business, change the world, or just be a better family member. And if you've read it, you'll learn new things on the re-read.
5. Looking Backward, by Edward Bellamy
This was, no doubt, the most influential book of my life, unless it was the sequel, Equality, which is even better. When it was published in 1888, it became the third largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur. It is one of the few books ever published that created almost immediately on its appearance a political mass movement. I just re-read both of them, and they absolutely stand the test of time -- if anything, they are more relevant today than they were a hundred years ago. And yet, they have been buried and forgotten. That's no accident. If you want to find the REAL national treasure that's hidden in plain sight, check out Looking Backward. You will not believe that this was written in 1888, and we still ended up where we ended up.