Skip to main content

34: Blessed and Humbled


I remember the day like it was yesterday. One of my favorite birthday experiences. A memory that floods to the top of my conscience on a day like today - a day in which I turn 34 years old.

I was nine years old, and we lived in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, NY. Our home, a small 650 square foot (illegal) basemen apartment - all five of us. 

Not many who know me today realize this, but my family grew up relatively poor. Lower income. Socioeconomically marginalized, if you well. And quite frankly, uneducated. It's a part that I carry with me always, but still, a part of me others are shocked to hear whenever I reveal this part of who I am, or, they witness the ease in my relating to immigrants and their socioeconomic struggles. 

But so goes the life, and so goes the element of social capital with privilege. And believe me, I'm aware of that.  

Like most birthdays, regardless of our financial situation, my parents always attempted to make them feel special. Whether it was baking a cake, a trip to McDonalds, a personal request for dinner, or those half-vanilla-half-chocolate ice cream cups I enjoyed so much. Really, food was always the gift on the table (except the one year I got a bike - which was freakin awesome, and surprising!)

And this ninth birthday was no different. 

Now, nothing special happened. Nope. And nothing overly ceremonious occurred. What I vividly remember from that day was my mother taking me, my brother, and a couple of my friends from school to get some Pizza. 

I remember her ordering a whole pie - pepperoni topping, to the salivation of any nine year old kid. I thought it was the coolest thing. 

And then, mother upped the ante. "Let's buy some KFC!", she said leading the brigade of echoing support. 

Now, at the time, this blowed my mind. WHAT?! We're getting TWO of these meals? BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER!

It was an extremely special day, especially for a family that relied on making fresh produce last a couple of days for meals, and spreading out the days in which corned beef and rice - a poor man's delight - was served. 

To the delight of not only myself, my mother lead this pack of uber-excited boys on their second indulgence of the day, walking away with a side container of ten BBQ wings from KFC. 

My mother then upped the ante one more time. Has she gone MAD?! She bought us a 3 liter bottle of Champagne Cola from the corner bodega and yes, those split vanilla-chocolate ice cream cups I loved. Authenticated with the serving stick. You know exactly what I'm talking about if you live in NYC. 

Nonetheless, I'll never forget it. Eating with my friends on the stoop. Our fingers a mess with BBQ sauce. Our faces stuffed with pizza. Our bodies taking frequent deep breaths in an attempt to make more room for the food that was sure to come. Yay! Happy Birthday to me! 

For this poor kid, it was memorable. The best. A day that was made special, because, well, it was. This didn't happen to us often. We didn't eat like this at all - if really, very rarely. I'm embarrassed how I now view fast food today in comparison to these memories. 

But something happened that I never told my parents about on that day. I remember coming into the apartment to get a baseball card I had found to share with a friend - a Frank Thomas gold Topps card. While making my way to the bedroom - my parents bedroom, the only bedroom -  I overheard my dad say the following to my audibly distraught and worried mom, "it's ok. It's the boy's birthday. It's worth it. We can cut other things this month."

---

As I turn 34 today, I found that memory replaying itself over and over in my head. I'm not sure why, or really, what to make of it. I spent most of the day hugging and playing with my son, and just wanting to be with my wife. Nothing more, nothing less. 

Even after my son went to bed, my wife - who much like my mom, always wants my birthday to feel special, even when I don't care to (thanks!) - suggested we order take out dinner. On that lone drive to pick it up, it dawned on me that here I was at thirty-four years old, driving my own car to get a meal that was surely more than anything I could have wanted as a nine year old, and soon-to-be eating it comfortably in my own apartment. And yes, not even batting an eye on how paying for it was going to impact my monthly budget. 

34 is unglamorous. It's nonchalant. On the surface, it's the lowly exit with a rest stop en route to the big city (35?). But, on this thirty fourth birthday, this start of my thirty-fifth year on this earth - of running this race called life - I'm just in absolute awe of how far I've come. I'm completely floored in humility by the little boy who still remembers pepperoni pizza, BBQ wings, and champagne soda as the best birthday - check that - as the best THING ever. 

I guess, at thirty four, I don't want that feeling to ever change. Because it keeps me grounded. It keeps me humbled. But most of all, it reminds me of how unbelievably blessed I've been. 

Bring on 34. 

Recently Read Posts

Predictions and Wild Guesses for the 2021-22 NBA Season

For the first time in as long as I can remember, my New York Knicks have become a bit of a sanctuary for my sports fandom. Everything that has been the New York Yankees summer, and recent elimination, just begs for a proverbial turning of the page. The NBA season is that new chapter.  The Knicks season is a bit of a conundrum, as they've gotten much better, BUT, so did the rest of the Eastern Conference. I'm feeling confident, but I'm also anxious for more good basketball and hoping that last year wasn't some fluky gift to us Knicks for our patience prior to last season.  Whatevs...nonetheless, here are my predictions for the upcoming NBA season.

Sunday Sundown Rundown - 10/24/21

3 Up 1. Science and Research - Look, I'm not trying to get into any debates or start trouble with this selection. I'm just giving props to the men and women who continue to develop these vaccines - and now approved booster shots - that help fight off this terrible virus that has plagued over the past 18 months. Some countries still don't have an option when it comes to vaccines - we're onto booster shots, and can "choose". Perspective and privilege are needed sometimes.  2. Col. Wang Yaping - Give it up to Yaping who in six weeks will become the first Chinese woman to walk in space. OF course, she is receiving tons of backlash from the media - but hey, did we expect anything else? 

CM Punk's Return - Perfect Timing for the Symbol of Anti-WWE

Looooooooook in my eyes, what do you see?! The lyrics to Cult of Personality, especially that first bar,  never felt so fitting for CM Punk as it did last night.  For the most part, everything that is CM Punk's return to wrestling last night at AEW Rampage ties directly into my latest thoughts on pro wrestling - the company is making it must-see destination television, an element desperately needed from pro wrestling.  Last night was incredible as again, it was another moment that made wrestling feel alive - with a wild and energetic pulse. It was one of the coolest moments in pro wrestling that you knew was coming, expected, anticipated, and it was everything and more. Again, MUST-SEE television. That's hard to do.  For me, it wasn't just Punk's return to pro wrestling, but the mere presence and voice of his inclusion in today's space. We know that Punk can deliver on the microphone - probably his best and most signature attribute. We also know that yes, he can

Sunday Sundown Rundown - 10/10/21

3 Up 1. Moderna Vaccine to Low Income Nations - In a world where the idea of "pandemic" now feels like a state of mind or the privilege of belief, Moderna has decided to aim its efforts in getting at least 1 billion doses to low-income countries the COVID vaccine. I'll save the "vaccine" chat for another time - but this is pretty awesome by Moderna. And oh yeah, highly needed.  2. Candace Parker and Diana Taurasi - Two absolute legends of the WNBA had some legacy-cementing moments this week. Parker lead her hometown Chicago Sky into the WNBA finals, and Taurasi, was named the GOAT of the WNBA by fans. Because well, she is. Congrats to both.  3. Netlfix's On My Block - For the second week in a row I'm putting a personal - and admittedly, biased - selection in the "Up" section. One of my favorite shows by Netflix, On My Block , released its fourth and final season, and yes, I binged it on my daily commute home. Gonna miss the crew from Freeridge.