I woke this August morning to the warm sound of summer rain pitter-pattering a soft birthday song on the frail window panes outside of our bedroom, one year older, one year more grateful for this life of mine. I swear, sometimes I still feel like my 10-year-old self taking a long walk through the tall, grassy field behind my childhood home, humming, pondering, dreaming. I did a lot of that when I was younger, happily by myself in a world that felt big and strange and full of wonder that I could see and feel and touch, but didn’t understand. Not much has changed. I am beginning to think that that part of me will always be there, and maybe it’s not my 10 year-old self, but my soul and inner voice shining it’s light from time to time like a lighthouse when I need a good centering back to what matters most. Just maybe.
I took it upon myself to sleep in past 8 am today, which was entirely perfect to say the least, because deep sleep has always been one of my favorite gifts, especially in the rain. But because I’m a mom, each of the kiddos took it upon themselves to give me a good tug on the shoulder, foot, and arm, reminding me it was my birthday so I was needed downstairs.
“You know…it’s your day, mom.” – Theodore, gently
“Wake up, mom! It’s not dark outside!” – Alfie, with a lisp
“We have something for you!” – Stella, eager to have me read her card
I gathered myself after a good stretch, quite thankful for the overcast day ahead because I have been wanting to watch The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on Netflix, which by the way, is going to be one of our book club reads this year! Have you read it? I am thinking Winter for that one, maybe Spring. We’ll see. Before making my way downstairs I laid there staring at the ceiling overhead, thinking of my grandma Mary Jeanne and how blessed I am to have my health, my mind, and the good fortune to love what I do, where I am, with whom I care most about. She was admitted to the hospital yesterday and the past several weeks have been a hard for us – a constant reminder to slow down and savor the present, for that’s all we have for sure, you know? Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. But now. So today I am going to celebrate today, my birthday, because that’s what she would want.
Sometimes I go through life thinking I’ll be ready to begin next month, next year even, or maybe after the current season if it’s crazy stressful, all the while dismissing the plain and simple fact that life is now and I am indeed living it. It sounds so obvious and odd when laid out like this, typed even, but I think it’s probably not as common (sadly) for many people to consider that life is happening this very moment, and despite our best intentions, it’s not going to wait for any of us to jump on in. Some of the best advice I’ve ever received about life is that it’s now o’clock, which is kind of a kick in the pants, and entirely the point, I suppose. As much as my grandmother’s decline with dementia is breaking my heart, her everyday devotion to life’s ordinary arts and the spiritual mysteries that hug each day is not lost on me. We are only here for a brief time, if we’re lucky, and so I’m going to spend what I have of it spreading light in the now, just as she taught me to do.
Upon making my way down our creaky stairs I heard four voices begin to serenade, “Haaappppyyyy birthday….” Though my eyes were still groggy and half shut, I could see a faint glow coming from the dining room, a candle perhaps? Yes, one tiny beeswax taper stuck on the top of a macaroon mountain, alongside fresh flowers in my grandma’s porcelain pitcher, several handmade cards, and a gift of all things French (a theme to be sure!). We all took turns sampling the flavors before breakfast and coffee: lavender, pistachio, PB&J, raspberry, salted caramel, and red velvet cake. I then the read my love notes and little one scribbles, and opened my gift of a nice bottle of white from the Rhone Valley, a favorite cheese, and…drumroll…two years worth of French lessons! Magnifique! Andrew chimed in, “I thought you’d love knowing how to chat with the locals and market vendors when we go on holiday to Paris!”
My husband, my dear, is the most thoughtful person I know, always thinking outside the box and full of surprises just like this one. He knows my favorite things in life are those we cannot hold with out hands but our hearts, and this one takes the cake. French lessons have always been on my mind and now I get to take them. How very lucky am I! His brother Jason lives in Paris and after spending a few weeks there last summer, the two of us decided while walking along the Seine to make it our family’s annual trip. He recently renovated an old Parisian flat so there’s plenty of room for us to stay, and there we will make it a tradition to summer there and travel to and fro, spending time doing what we love, which is being together, eating good food, and enjoying simple pleasures in city that sings beauty and hope around every bend. I am beyond grateful for my gift and very excited to begin my lessons, which I am going to dabble in, or at least browse through, during quiet time today.
Instead of a drive-in like we had planned, Andrew and I are going to a new/old restaurant for dinner tonight, one that lives up the road from our first home here in Kansas City. We moved here knowing little to nothing and settled on an apartment downtown next to an old jazz bar that became my first job here. If you ever find yourself in Kansas City and want a place to hunker down with a good martini and some live soul music, The Phoenix is just the place for you. I worked there while teaching youngsters ESL North of the river, moonlighting as a server/bartender until I became noticeably pregnant with Stella, whereby it was time to call it quits and spend less time serving said martinis on my feet for hours on end. But it was a good job, a great job even, and one that nourished my love of jazzy instrumentals and paid my way through the last bit of school. So tonight we’re hoping to stop there either before or after our meal for drink and some tunes, to toast to the year ahead and for all the goodness life has given me so far.
Cheers to my 31 trips around the sun! May it be a year full of all things beautiful, good, and true. And like my 10-year-old self, I’ll be humming, pondering, dreaming as I make my way through.