(My house’s grey water outlet has been frozen for several days so this birthday morning, as I ran a smidge of water for my coffee, I stared at the pans catching the overflow from the dishwasher. Some part of the day’s celebration would include ladling water into a bucket and dumping it outside. I looked at the clock. Dumping would have to wait till after work.
Outside the kitchen window, an expanse of white and brambles disappears into the woods behind the house. A lace coverlet dotted with tracks. Hints of nocturnal secrets. What a perfect day to just…
Turn on the faucet. Open the basement door. Listen for leaks. Eye the water in the catch-pans and check under the sink.
Oh Dear Fates, the drain thawed in the middle of the night! And within a half hour of that sweet gift, my day’s employment was canceled. Financially sound or no, I’ve been handed a whole day to labor and laze as I please. And if that isn’t gift enough, my son has pledged to wash the pile of pots, pans and dishes that grew like a new continent in just a few frozen days.)
Staring at my naked self in the mirror is a once a year odyssey. My head turns side to side. Surprised. Quizzical. Wry. “Where? How? When?” Ineluctably, the mind’s eye launches a survey of changes, causes and effects:
- Sags and bags
- Children, always beside me. Kind, robust men and a sweet, rollicking woman.
- Work. Hard. Laborious. Satisfying. And save for the sounds of stone on stone, steel on wood, flesh and bone, often silent.
- Love. Hard. Laborious. A balloon capable of heady inflations, aimless drifts, hissing collapses and soul-rocking explosions
- Losses and gains
- Wrinkles and creases.
- (See “Sags and bags”)
- Sun, glorious & punishing
- A Cornucopia of Indulgences
- Oceans, deserts, rivers, mountains, cities and farms
- Vegetables, dirt and skin dyed by fresh-picked fruit and the hungry I’ve known
- Sawdust, diapers, worry, love, anger and fear. The stuff of life.
- Laughter. Uproarious, unbidden.
- The melting away of the fat that pads our dermis and longings.
No matter how surprising is the image I see each year, my shoulders shrug of their own volition and both thumbs “go way up” in salutation. “All mine,” I chortle involuntarily.
But wait. If birthday wishes require no special effort, then perhaps a tad less or more here or there? A tuck of the temper? A nip of the tongue? Cosmetics, darlin’s. Flimflam. The real reason for my special fireworks is:
- This is the day on which all my progeny depend. (True, Narcissus, of nearly all the flora and fauna in the world. Get over yourself.)
- This is the day that changed my little part of the world. (Puh-leeze! A speck in time and space. A busy little speck; but a speck nonetheless.)
- Without this day, the rest of my life would be moot.
Or, as my mother liked to say, “If my legs were longer, I’d be taller.”
But the time has come to turn from the reflection. No matter how enthralling the navel may be, its revelations can be circular.
On this day, I might:
- Take a walk along the river. To preserve my sense of time and place. To rescue my sense of humor. (A four hundred million year old river — that’s eight zeros while most of us settle for one — and a primordial ice floe inching past my very eyes); or
- Take a cigarette break on the front porch in my pajamas and with one eye closed, squint through the trees till I see the slivers of ice and water below;
- Eat a healthy, grainy breakfast to celebrate the bounties of life and the gifts bestowed on me; or
- Fill a big bowl with the “Columbian Coffee” and “Rocky Road” ice creams I bought myself yesterday;
- Edit and structure this ditty of a column; or
- Fling it into the ethernet without fuss and fumes;
- Read hundreds of emails from a zillion worthy causes; or
- Settle in with “The Gods Must Be Crazy” and “Harry Potter.”
- Get to work on a freebie website promised to a not-for-profit; or
- Be astonished by the abundance of people, places, events and things that have twirled and stomped through my doors these fifty eight years. And, like any other day, pray my grip holds when the ride starts to spin.
To all the well-wishers and well-beloveds in my lucky life, many, many thanks.