Taking a week to celebrate my birthday was a great idea. Afterward I needed another week of first recovering and then catching up on work, but it was definitely worth it.

My friends and I did a lot of partying that week, but we also had a lot of meaningful conversations about everything under the sun, which of course got me thinking. The things that bond me to each individual may differ to varying degrees, but as I looked around at and spoke to the important people in my life, my belief that mutual respect is the true glue that sustains any significant relationship was reaffirmed. No matter how my relation and connection to each person is defined the thing that each relationship has in common is acceptance of the person for who they are and knowledge that they offer me the same.

These thoughts accompanied me throughout the week, but on one night in particular it hit me especially hard.

It was Friday night and only a handful of people had come out to the countryside; the rest were scheduled to arrive Saturday afternoon for the final party of the week in the castle cellar. After picking everyone up from the train station, we dropped off their things at the friends’ house where we were staying, ate dinner, and then headed off to the local bar. It was a terrific night; we had a lot of fun but at the same time had a lot of deep, personal conversations. And the great thing was that though the topics were at times very intimate, I didn’t feel at all that I needed to hide who I was. There was nothing but acceptance and respect, even in those inevitable moments when understanding of another perspective was elusive.

I looked around the table and saw how each person was different, or rather how I connected with each of them differently. I saw how each of them challenged me in unique ways based on who we are as individuals, saw people curious about the world, about the people who fill it, about—perhaps most importantly—themselves.

I started thinking about the people coming up the next day, about the other friends scattered around the globe who couldn’t make it to the party. And always the common thread in the people there and the people I wished could be there was that respect and openness, that curiosity and acceptance, and—dare I say it—that love that we all view as essential in our relationships.

Yes, in academic terms I could define other important aspects of individual relationships because defined or not there are things that make each relationship unique. But the core is the same in all of them; as long as those core elements are there, it really doesn’t matter to me how my relationships are defined or what else is an aspect of our relationship.

It occurs to me that another trait in each of my most meaningful relationships is an ability to comfortably spend time together without doing anything together. When I can read a book while you play computer games, when I can get work done while you work on your stuff, when I can get lost in my thoughts while you tinker away on some project, in short, when we can spend time together without feeling uncomfortable about doing our own thing—these times are just as important to me as feeling comfortable talking about and doing things, regardless of what else makes up the relationship.

The people who I bond with in this way, I call them friends, but in fact they are my family. And being able to spend a week with them celebrating my life, their lives, our lives was the best way I could have possibly spent my birthday.

Throw in the fact that my family knows how to party balls-to-the-wall and you’ve got yourself a fucking kick ass time full of wonderful memories (and one or two brown-outs).

I must be getting sentimental in my old age, but to all my family I just wanna say that I love you all.

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