Today is my 60th birthday, and this is what I see when I look out my window. It’s literally half a world away from the places I’ve spent all my other birthdays. I’m going to dinner to celebrate with my husband and two friends who don’t speak the same primary language I do. And there’s a guy outside on the promenade with Andean pipes, an amp, and a surreal version of “Nights in White Satin.” But however unusual today may be in the scheme of things, my job is the same it’s always been. My job today is to appreciate what’s in front of me.
Previous birthdays, on reflection, have been a mixed bag. The one I remember best from childhood involves a paper circus set arrayed across three-quarters of our dining room table; since it was a drop leaf table whose end had taken the appellation to heart, you couldn’t put anything there without it starting a slow slide to the scuffed floor. But I was happy to have my circus and a cake I got to pick out from Rao’s Bakery. I do still wonder why all my cakes had icing roses on them, as I’ve actually never liked icing.
Most birthdays since then have been spent with Mark and the kids, of course. I can’t claim specific memories of some of them. Thirty, for example, streaked past me entirely. In my defense, our daughter Jane was four months and four days old, and she had not slept for four of those months. True sleep deprivation apparently obliterated all of those memory neurons. Fifty, on the other hand, was truly amazing. Mark told me a couple of weeks in advance to block out my schedule for four days around my birthday, as we were going on a mystery trip. Packing consisted of putting a hot weather pile and a cold weather pile on our bed and vamoosing while somebody put one pile in a suitcase and hid the other one. On the appointed day, Mark, Jane, Mary, and I trooped to the airport, where I was handed a travel guide to San Francisco. It was glorious. I treasure the memories of those days.
The birthday I learned the most from, though, was my 25th. A quarter of a century is a big deal, right? I was working at my first job as a lawyer and dating a fellow I knew from law school. He knew when my birthday was and hadn’t said anything about celebrating, but I was sure that meant there was a big surprise coming my way. There was: he didn’t call. (For you youngsters, there were no emails, texts, or other social media on which to send a cowardly boyfriend/half-assed good wish.) And the funniest thing is that though I didn’t get the attention I wanted, all that day other people kept calling, leaving me cards and little gifts, and even bringing me a glass of wine for a toast when I got home from the office. The universe showed up with exactly what I needed: family and friends, each telling me that they were glad I was born. And did I appreciate it? Not even a little. I bawled myself to sleep because I got what I needed instead of what I wanted. What a putz!
So here is another b’day, and I’m trying to appreciate what has shown up in this beautiful and unpredictable dance called life. It’s not normally what we do, of course, and that’s a shame. Remember in the last act of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” where the recently deceased Emily asks to return to her 12th birthday? She is shocked and saddened to see little people appreciate the small joys of life and the pleasure that being with those you love can bring. When she inquires of the narrator/Stage Manager whether anyone understands life while they live it, he replies, “No. The saints and the poets maybe-they do some.”
Happy birthday, saints and poets. Let’s appreciate this beautiful day.