Today is my birthday.
It’s not something that I generally advertise or talk about. I don’t really celebrate it. I have my reasons. Or at least I did.
Zora Neale Hurston said, “There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.” This year has been a year of questions so far, at least for me. The tail end of 2019 was, too. Some of these are newer questions; others are the same old questions or variations of previous ones.
It’s the questions that have kept me from celebrating.
“What’s the point? It’s just another day.”
“Does anyone care anyway? They never really did before.”
“When the person who made it special is no longer here, why bother? It will never be good.”
I feel the need to point out that my age is not why I don’t celebrate my birthday. But I would like to think that as I get older that I do get a tiny bit wiser. Or at least pay attention more, especially to Grandmother Wisdom.
Grandmother Wisdom is my absolute favorite type of wisdom. I like Grandfather Wisdom, too, but I’ve never had a lot of access to it. My paternal grandfather died before I was born, so that left the wisdom bit to my maternal grandfather who was a truck driver until my adolescence.
But Grandmother Wisdom I got in buckets because I was fortunate enough to know and spend time both of my grandmothers and all four of my great-grandmothers. And over the years, I’ve paid attention to the older women in my life—those friends and colleagues who know much more about the goings-on of the world than I do.
It was two of these women who admonished me last year for not celebrating my birthday. In response to my questioning rationale described above, my friend Annis from New Zealand simply replied, “it’s not about you.” Why would I rob the people in my life of celebrating my presence in their lives? Good question. And why wouldn’t I at least express gratitude for another year “this side of the sod.”
I am grateful, extremely. My life, though not perfect (who’s is?) and not always what I planned (again, who’s is?), is rather extraordinary. And if I look past the self-perceived flaws, it’s clearly the life I dreamed of, merely in a different form than I could have imagined.
If I’ve learned anything in the past several months, it’s been more appreciation of that—acknowledging the flaws in way that allows coexistence with my blessings. As I’m writing now, a clear and vivid image comes to mind.
In my mind’s eye, I see a stream running freely and clearly through the middle of a forest of tall trees. There’s a clearing around a portion of the stream and from its pebbly banks, you can look up and see the sky. Above the treetops in front of you looms snow-capped, red-rocked mountains. Behind you and to the right of your field of vision, you can see the slope of the forested hillside that brought you here. The water is a deep, inky blue. The bank is covered with smooth, dark gray pebbles to match the larger boulders punctuating the stream.
As you turn to your left, you see a wise woman seated at a simple loom closer to the water. Approaching her, you can see over her shoulder that she is weaving a tapestry, though the final pattern and image is not clear. It’s stylized, yet familiar—abstract, yet traditional. To her left is a basket containing a haphazard mix of yarn and thread. You know what she knows. These are the supplies she has been given with which to weave the tapestry. Dark, light, ugly, beautiful…all must be used and incorporated into the pattern, into the story this tapestry will tell.
This image is very familiar to me. I think about it a lot on my birthday. And I see it anytime someone talks about life and its events. It particularly comes to mind when I hear folks say things like “let it go” or “move on.” My ears and brain process those phrases as if one can divorce oneself from life events—the events that ask the questions that put off celebration. I hear these sentiments as if the weaver can throw an ugly skein of yarn back into the basket because they don’t like it.
To me, the tapestries of our lives present us with a multitude of threads, some grand and some not so grand. But we must find a way to incorporate all of these experiences, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings into our tapestry. Rather than letting it go, we’re letting it be. We’re learning and growing, following the patterns of our lives and steering ourselves toward the remembrance of our wholeness.
So, it’s my birthday. I doubt I’ll become like my friend Kellie and celebrate all month long. In fact, I have no plans to celebrate. At this point in my life, acknowledgment and gratitude are enough.