His birthday was the day after Christmas, so we were all home from school. The day was a cold and grey one; I don’t remember if we had snow, but we had that feeling of the day after Christmas: that feeling of it’s being over, the feeling of anticlimax and of all the surprises behind us.
I think I might have been twelve years old at the time.
His name was Jerry and he was a dj on our Pittsburgh Christian radio station. He was also a member of our church and one of the “singles” who came to the Bible study that my parents held at our house. The day after Christmas was Jerry’s birthday.
We did not know this, my sisters and me. Neither did we know that he was coming. And never had we heard before of his philosophy, which is that on one’s birthday, one ought to do something for somebody else, something that makes your life– even if for just that day– worthy of the celebration that people are making it out to be.
But this was Jerry’s philosophy, and so on his birthday Jerry came to our house and got my sisters and me and took us to the movies for the afternoon. The Young Sherlock Holmes. I don’t remember whether we got popcorn, but we thought the entire event was wonderful.
Today is my birthday. I’m 42 today because I can’t help it: it’s the next number. It’s the only place to go after turning 41. And I’d like to say that I’ve adopted Jerry’s philosophy and that I do things to make my life into the gift to others that I’d like it to be. I’d like to say that.
Instead, over this weekend I’ve been the recipient of two birthday dinners and two birthday cakes, two dinners out and another one in (Bill is making my favorite soup tonight). I’ve had cards and packages come in the mail, scrambled eggs for breakfast out on the deck (thank you, Emma), and the birthday song in person and over the phone. I’ve even made my children help me clean the house, which is in no possible way a means by which I could make them grateful for my life, but which makes me–anew– grateful for theirs. And I’ve had the day off to boot– the last day of a four-day weekend, the fall break we get from school every year, but which this year happened to include my birthday.
I am feeling Very Celebrated.
I did take my kids to Jimmy John’s for lunch, and this certainly counts for something. But I made them take the lunch with us to Duke Gardens, where we ate on a familiar hillside, sitting in the shade on a blanket, very incredibly near to the place where we once spent a portion of my birthday six years ago. Only this time we didn’t do any homeschooling there, and this time we tossed a football around, and all four of us climbed the live oak that has sat every day in that exact same place, spreading its branches over the stream and the lawn just over the hill from the duck pond. The air is balmy and sweet today and the sky– for the fourth day running– is a cloudless blue. For awhile I watched my children (are they children still?) go after that tree, and I thought that maybe they’ve climbed it more times than I remember and that our picnic here six years ago meant that they were so much smaller than they are now with none of them yet taller than me.
How good it is that despite the changes these six years have wrought, we are all still so very much the same. Yes, I’m older with– at the very least– more lines around my eyes. But on this day, Bill and I celebrate my birthday and the 23rd anniversary of our first date. And these three children– still– are here.
These days Will towers over me, and Everett is gaining on me daily with Emma Grace not far behind. They will all be taller than I am, I’m sure of it, and with grace they’ll be much wiser: maybe on their birthdays they’ll let their children play X-Box all day or maybe they’ll take them to the movies. Yet they all seemed contented enough with our little outing. No one asked to go home. No one commented that we’ve been to Duke Gardens a thousand times. They were happy enough to let me have them to myself for some small hours in the middle of October, on one of their vacation days no less. They didn’t seem to mind at all.
There is still time, I suppose, to do something for somebody else. But shortly I have to get ready for the family who is coming to celebrate me, and I do have a little bit of school work to attend to, and the laundry is waiting downstairs. I think that instead of doing something spectacular to bless someone else, I’m just going to have to continue with what I’ve been doing all day, and most of my days lately– the wiser ones, anyway. I’ll just have to repeat that refrain again, the only thing I should say, I think. It’s really all there is: thank You. thank You. thank You.