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Birthday cards: Little things hold great love

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JULY 03, 2023

“What does love mean to you?”

I have known my best friend for 11 years now. 

She knows about my retired dream to be a singer, my painfully low tolerance for horror movies, the fact that I sucked my thumb until fourth grade and my love for peach tea with honey.

Similarly, I know that she can’t help but walk crooked, that her favorite foods are popcorn and her mom’s croquettes, that her dream job used to be to work in an elephant conservatory and scoop up their poop and that she is scared of butterflies.

Eleven years is a very long time. Our knowledge of each other reflects that lengthy duration.

Over the past 11 years, we have had this one ongoing tradition: ridiculously extravagant birthday cards. 

Every time one person’s birthday rolls around, the other person will produce a mind-blowing card that literally calls for hours, days and maybe even weeks of work. But that is what makes it all the more special. 

It started with my friend writing me this card with multiple reasons why she loves me as a friend. I remember it being this lengthy scroll of 8-by-11-inch papers taped onto each other by these messy, tacky pieces of tape. It was so long that if I stood by the end of my bed and unraveled it, it would stretch out of my bedroom, through the door and into the hallway. 

I read every word she wrote.

But that was only the beginning of this extremely unsustainable tradition. Every birthday, we’d type out these excruciatingly long paragraphs of loving blurbs and lists that simply entailed all the stupid, crucial reasons why we loved each other and why we would always be best friends. 

Recently, I made 15 pop-up cards for her 15th birthday, each card explaining one of the 15 gifts I got for her. I made a card for microwave popcorn, explaining that a large part of our friendship is the endless movie nights with massive bowls of her favorite snack. Then, in another card, I explained to her that I gave her a funky pair of socks that have these little cutouts for her toes because I know she has this extremely peculiar, yet slightly endearing obsession with feet. 

These cards are undeniably ridiculous and eat up a significant chunk of our energy and time; we won’t be able to write cards like these forever. But while this tradition lasts, these cards will be the main thing I look forward to every time my birthday rolls around.

They are a firm, unwavering demonstration of how much time we have spent listening to each other, and how the strength of our friendship is a pure result of remembering the little things. We know the important parts about each other because we retain the details about each other. 

She knows I cannot stand to let time go to waste. I know she adores simplicity in all aspects of life (not just due to the fact that her favorite food is literally popcorn) — she loves people whose sense of humor consists of sending her memes with no context, and she enjoys creating clean, black and white charcoal paintings and listening to classical music that is smooth and peaceful. 

Nothing overly fancy or complex. 

It’s sweet to watch movies where you see the protagonists being serenaded by a love interest, or when you find these extravagant promposal videos on YouTube with people performing dances or filling the person’s locker with flowers and then popping the question. But there is so much value in someone picking up a matcha latte from a cafe for you because they remembered it was your favorite, or someone choosing to bring their date to a quiet picnic in the park because they remembered them saying that they don’t like loud places. 

The point is there is so much value, so much meaning and so much love in remembering the little things. Remembering shows that you pay attention, that you listen and that you care. 

But the question from the beginning still lingers in the air: “Naomi, what does love mean to you?” 

To me, love means remembering the details about a person, because those details hold so many personalities, secrets and values. As you hear and remember more of them, these details arrange themselves in your brain to form the mental image and understanding you have of that person. 

Once you demonstrate that in-depth understanding through your recollection of the details, that person will realize a clear fact: you care.

We pay attention to the parts of life we care about. 

In her recent birthday gift for me, my friend included a bag of these sour, lemon candies — a childhood favorite that I hadn’t had in a while. I remember thanking her in person, and maybe my excitement and slight shock at the gift threw her off, because I remember her asking with a slightly confused tone:

“Did you think I’d forget?’

I laughed. 

“No, I knew you wouldn’t.” 

It’s just amazing how the little things feel so big.

Naomi Hsu writes the Monday column on childhood comforts that have shaped the person she is today. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

AUGUST 05, 2023