Tomorrow I turn forty-two. Every time I’ve thought about my birthday these past couple of weeks, my mind intellectualized with statements like, “What’s a birthday, anyway? Another random and meaningless cultural construction. Just another day. Nothing special.” But I know enough about the mind to know that when I’m stuck in my head I’m trying to avoid something in my heart. So I drop down.
I breathe. I set my older son in charge of the little one and go upstairs to turn inward. Within moments, I’m in my heart-space, walking through the layers of feeling that rise up.
First, gratitude: My husband, who creates the foundation on which we’ve built our connected, rich, challenging, passionate life. My husband, who spends weeks planning for my birthday each year, channeling his artistic talent into creating a special gift for me. Every year I tell him I don’t need anything, and every year he blows me away. My husband, who is the soft pillow onto which I land every day, every night, who is so much a part of me that it’s easy to take him for granted. It’s these moments that I feel blessed to have a platform where I can shout out to the world how much I love him.
My sister-friends and family who surround me in a circle of love, who send me gifts from across the country or give me hand-written cards and hugs that bring me to tears. They fill in the missing pieces, their love like rainbow clouds that fill the holes with glory. They hold me when I cry. They celebrate me when I triumph. They talk me through the intricacies of challenging relationships so that I can speak my truth and walk a path of integrity.
Next, grief: I miss my childhood. I miss my intact family. I think about the birthdays of my youth, how excited I felt to wake up on November 5th and know that this day just for me. Transitions and milestones activate past transitions, and today my childhood filters up through my heart map. There I am with my brother, playing with stuffed animals in the backyard. There I am with my dog-best friend, a German Shepherd named Duchess. There I am with with my imperfect family who, through the innocent eyes of a child, I saw as perfect.
I miss my deceased grandmother. Her birthday was November 2nd, and she’s been floating through my consciousness for several days now. I breathe myself into her rose garden; I feel her love around me like the shawls she knitted by the light and warmth of my grandfather’s Franklin stove; I can hear her calling me, “Darling.” Blessed are those who receive the unconditional love of a grandparent. Through my grief of missing, I feel the blessing of love.
I miss our land. I miss the spot at the creek where I have sat every year on my birthday, writing poems and connecting to the blue-scarved angels of beauty that swirled around me. My place where I’ve said to my family a hundred times, “This is my favorite spot in the entire world.” It’s gone, and I know in this moment that the primary reason why I’ve wanted to avoid my birthday this year is because the immensity of this grief feels too big. But it’s not too big. It feels so good to feel the pain that lives in the heart. I will sit tomorrow amongst the destruction. I will wrap my body around the fallen tree that now blocks my sacred spot. I will my pour my love into the land the way she has poured her love into me all these years. It’s a relationship, my teacher has said to me. I will not forsake you now, my beloved land. I will not run away. I will sit with you tomorrow, and instead of being filled with joy, I will be filled with grief. That’s okay. Joy and grief are twins in the heart, and there is joy in the grief and a touch of grief in the joy. As long as I turn undefended to face it, it’s okay.
Then, acceptance. Do I grieve the passage of time today as I have done so acutely the day before my birthday in previous years? I don’t feel it now. I stared at my face in the mirror for several minutes before I wrote, and what I noticed was the way time and experience have etched themselves across my skin, in my eyes, through my hair. The shimmering silver sings of the wisdom that can only grow from walking through adulthood and entering one’s forties holding the light of consciousness as the beacon that guides the way. The broken red blood vessel in my right eye tells the story of pushing my second-born son out of me, pushing like my ancestors in the wild plains, pushing through the agony so that I could embrace the ecstasy of a tiny, perfect, brown-skinned baby laid upon my chest, the warm waters of the birthing tub surrounding us. I’ve never run from pain.
Next I observe the age-lines: the faint arch above my chin that tells the story of my fearless relationship to feeling the pain of life; the smile lines that stretch out from each eye like rays of joyous sunlight; the creases in my forehead that declare a face fully alive to the consternation, the mystery, the frustration, and the delightful moments of surprise. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been committed to overturning the false and damaging message of our culture and creating a life of authenticity. I’ve wanted to explode the airbrushed, Botoxed images and tell the truth. For today, I reverse the message that we should be ashamed of evidence of age and instead seek to claim the poetry embedded in the passage of time.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t want to write this post. I have so many posts already written that I could have easily published. But something pushed me forward. I thought I was writing it for you, my readers – especially for those of you who have said that you learn the most about your life when I write personally about my own – but it turns out, as tears have streamed down my face in harmony with the click-clack of my fingers flying across the keyboard, that I wrote it for me. Sometimes this blog is my journal. Sometimes it’s a way to process the transitions of my life. And for that I’m so grateful.
So lastly, a moment of gratitude for you, my dear readers. Thank you for holding me. Thank you for being in this journey of life with me. Thank you for reading. Thank you for inspiring me to claim my birthday this year. I am so grateful.
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