“Thank you for my non-death and my non-birth.” The third and certainly most definitive line of my meditation mantra. The second, “All that I want I have, everything that I need has already been given to me.” That one is a bit tougher for me than the other. As in I need my Momma, and I need my son’s surgery to go well, and I want another pair of skinny jeans and oh yeah I want a stable financial market as we head in to the freefall that is long overdue. “Everything I need has already been given to me,” I drone in hopes of one day believing.
Sunday again and here I am celebrating my birthday at the beach with my daughter and two friends, contemplating the life I have carved and the love and joy I find in it. My family celebrates birthdays for a week. My week started last Wednesday with La Boheme, my favorite opera, then the beach, segueing in the middle to a ping pong pizza party with my darling second cousins once removed, 5 and 8 years apiece and ends next week with a group of friends attending morning assembly to hear an oral presentation about courage and faith despite adversity by the middle school student I tutor. I have all that I need indeed.
A cardinal outside my window sings in such resplendent glory that as one settles down to listen, fears about the market or needs of the world quieten until neither you nor the marsh birds trilling over the grasses care a whit. Sitting there, digesting the day’s sermon about “those who sat in darkness have seen a great light,” I reflect on a tale told about blind folks who craved the quiet, predictable, understandable blackness of blindness after their sight had been restored by surgery. Unable to navigate a room, they could not differentiate between light, colors and shapes representing solid objects and shadows you could walk through. One miserable fellow took off his shoe, pitching it ahead of himself so he could better estimate his path.
Unable to imagine life without vision, or with vision of such distortion, I reflect on the path of my life. “Life can only be understood backwards; but must be lived forwards,” Kierkegaard said. Ah, there are days when I don’t understand life looking backwards. Wondering as I ponder the sermon, if anyone has ever tried to pitch their shoe behind, trying to determine the way from which they came. Throw a show backwards, listen to the thud and say, “How the heck did this happen and what was I thinking when I did that?” Wanting to undo one small thing here and another there. Maybe start all over from the beginning again. But clearly it is not possible to stop, turn around, and walk in reverse, altering the trajectory of our lives. And thus on days when we don’t know where we are going and how we are going to get there, we amble onward. Even with vision distorted, one foot slips in front of another until we arrive somewhere, only to discover this was not where we meant to be going.
At the end will we recognize those surrounding us, the path marked, the journey over? I used to think so. But this week I turn fifty-seven. The older I get, the less I believe in forward motion and the more I put my faith in something other than the solid objects that I bump into along the way. As I continue living, it seems that it”s the love that I give and receive as I knock about that matters most. Whether in Chapel Hill or the beach, all places take me where I’m going because I am already there. And since I have already arrived, it seems imperative that I open my heart as well as my eyes to hold this moment forever.
I love being older and wiser, filled with optimism about my future and my children’s futures as well. “Thank you for my ancestors, my ancestors ancestors, my children and my children’s children.” I gaze in the mirror, eyeing my aging face, cherishing the wrinkles? hoping I’ll never be one of those who won’t tell my age, who dyes my hair an unnatural color, pretending that the wrinkles in my neck don’t signal a secret that everyone knows but me. Or God forbid that I bow to the whims of a fickle culture worshiping skeletons and youth, and allow someone to cut my face or inject a toxin or some butt fat to make me look plumper in the lips but flatter in the stomach.
I’m happy to be fifty-seven. Happy to have made it this far with my battle scars and riches, both material and spiritual. Proud that I have secondary trauma because I have listened to my children for so many years. Resigned in my enlightenment that as I peer out into the congregation from the choir loft or hover on the edges of a party, counting one two three and wondering which one is a victim and which is the perpetrator? Statistics favoring one or the other. Glad I know what others continue to ignore or skim over, pretending that their story never happened so others can suffer that fate once and again.
I have come to understand that though my healing has wounded me, it has also created the only person I could ever be in this life. There is no separation between my work and myself anymore. I am shaped and defined by every single story I have absorbed and reflected back. My belief in their words creating healing in a holy exchange that alters both. Of course I would do some things differently if I could go backwards but remembering life has to be lived forward, I march on with my sufferings and my triumphs, proud to do so and happy to serve. Perhaps that’s why I believe in non-birth and non-death because one lifetime isn’t enough. I will gladly take another.
Happy Birthday to me.