My real birthday is January 1st, 2007.
There are those who would say that my eighth birthday actually occurred many years ago. I concede that technically my body, a tiny version of it, entered the world many years ago, sometime back there in the 1980s, but to be honest I don't remember that at all.
Let me tell you about the day my life began. It was 1/1/2007 and it was aboard an airplane. It lifted off from Dulles Airport in Virginia on 1/1/2007 with me on board. It was the first time I left the USA.
I was off to study a while in Germany. It was an overnight flight on which passengers were expected to sleep. How could I possibly sleep on my first day of life? Jesus. I couldn't sleep. I didn't sleep. I kept staring ahead at the little screen showing the airplane's progress overlaid on a map. The plane inched along, it seemed. I kept staring ahead in the blackened airplane cabin. No one stirred. Time had slowed down to a crawl to me. Something eventful was underway, I knew.
What a glorious thing it is to have clear memories of the first day one's life.
Nervous excitement filled those first hours on the plane, and the first awkward and dizzying day in Germany itself, before I moved in with the host family. The feeling was something like the hours before playing in a football game. I played football in high school a while. We were always nervous before games, like soldiers in war must be before battle. I remember. (Little did we know at the time that football didn't really matter at all.)
I knew a little German at the time of arrival but not enough to do anything, and finding my way on the first two days, suitcases in hand, was quite a misadventure in itself. I still remember clearly the exchanges I had with people. The woman of about 40 whom I asked "Could you please help me?" ("Können Sie mir helfen?") -- I was utterly lost and completely new and alone -- to which she replied with a curt "Wieso?" which is a word that generally means "Why?" but can mean "How so?". I must've been a sorry sight. Being a Berliner, she was on guard, not sure what I was up to.
I met many good people and had many adventures. Two American friends (J.S. and G.S.) I met in Germany are still to this day close friends whom I see whenever possible. I traveled a fair amount around Germany (including an ambitious trip to the Bavarian Alps with another American friend, B.A., who sped down the Autobahn in our rented car). I made a point to stay towards the east, thinking the experience would be more authentic. It was all pleasant.
Later that year I (unexpectedly) ended up in Estonia for a while, also to study in a kind of short term student exchange thing with others from all over Europe. Estonia I often call "my favorite country," but on reflection it was really a kind of extension of the time in Germany. German and Scandinavian influence in this region goes back to the era of the crusades or so, ending abruptly in 1940 with Stalin's invasion, reinstated in summer 1941 with German liberation, and reimposed in late 1944 with the defeat of German arms in the east; considered by the Estonians, as I recall, as a national disaster. In the 1980s, the inherent pro-Germanic tendencies of the Estonians and Latvians (pro-Scandinavian, pro-German, and by extension pro-American/NATO now) came back to the fore, and independence came in '91 after which Estonia dove back into the German sphere of influence, pegging its currency to the Deutsch Mark and all. The Estonia I knew felt not so different from Germany, just blonder, cheaper, with far fewer non-European foreigners than Germany but lots of Russians in the capital. The time in Estonia reinforced my positive attitude towards Germany and Europe as a whole.
Even at the time, I realized that my time in Germany completely changed my way of thinking. I became a different, more optimistic person. Life became full of possibility not something to be endured; adventure was there to be had for those brave enough to seize it; life became fun. The day it began, 1/1/2007, is thus my true birthday.
I reluctantly returned to the USA in mid-August 2007. In fall 2007 and through 2008 I finished up my university degree. I got almost all A's in classes I took after my time in Europe. (My grades before that had been less good.) In 2008, I even took classes I didn't need to take, just out of interest. I got a good job and earned what I then thought to be a lot of money in 2008. Then, in 2009, I left it and went off to Asia (for the first time) for reasons I couldn't quite explain at the time and cannot explain even now. You might be able to vaguely understand if you read this post.
A new year is a time for reflection, people believe. As I look back over "my eight years of life", all signs point to that first year of life, in Germany in 2007, as the happiest and best time of all. Ich danke Dir, Deutschland 2007, für alles das Du mir gegeben hast. Thank you, Germany 2007, for everything!