Today was my birthday. On this cloudy, drizzly, clammy-raw day, I turned 38. As of now, ninety-nine people have posted well wishes on my Facebook timeline. I feel the hope in their multiple exclamation points that I might drop my cares – or our communal cares – for a day, to revel in the love of others and the fact that I somehow *am*.
And I guess I planned to. Most of my recent birthdays have been spent soaking in such messages, planning my day around Exactly What I Want To Do, simply feeling the joy of living. Joy is, after all, literally my middle name.
But today I was assured that my path through this life will not get stale. Despite all intentions of finding a breezy, carefree spirit and celebrating with the absolutely wonderful coterie of people I get to call friends, I was sad. And lost. And despairing. And scared. And sad again, to the pit of my stomach, and ashamed for feeling so frayed on this ostensibly happy day, in the midst of a pretty damned charmed life.
So what’s wrong?
I mean, I could tick off the list of anxieties and hurts, but this isn’t a therapy session. That’s tomorrow, for real, ha! I’m in *therapy* and I still feel this f*cked up.
But if I’ve learned anything in these 38 years, it’s that pain is not failure. It’s a teacher, an opportunity, a shattering window at the edge of a growing soul. The shards were everywhere today, and pointy.
My last blog post was almost two years ago. Not coincidentally, it was my dad’s eulogy. It was the most wrenching writing experience of my life: propped up in bed at three in the morning, eating pear crisp with ice cream, because I’m my daddy’s girl. I wrote it; I spoke it; I felt proud and purified. In the following months, I grieved viscerally and, I thought, completely.
Then today my mom posted a photo of her, my dad, and me on my 35th birthday. I was wearing the red Badger jacket my dad had given me, my eyes full of hope, my heart settled by the prospect of coming home, finally, after a thus-far prodigal adulthood.
It seemed forever ago, because everything changed after my dad died. I think I’m just learning how much. I’ve learned to operate in this new world, and not just operate but grow, learn, and love. But it’s still an entirely different place, and I miss my dad like water.
At a Plant Science Symposium last month, Dr. Dan Chitwood described the “fingerprint” of leaf shapes by counting the number of times the leaf body intersected a set of concentric circles. Follow me here: at the center of a maple leaf, there would be one intersection with a little circle; toward the lobed perimeter, there would be many intersections with a bigger circle. What was unified – all leaf – at the center would become fragmented into leaf and background at the border. Dr. Chitwood described the leaf’s “fingerprint” as the “birth and death of distinctions” between leaf and not-leaf.
And so our days are fingerprinted. Each is uniquely situated between birth and death, life and not-life, the beginnings and endings of loved ones’ lifespans and our own goals, identities, and relationships. The ridges and whorls of one day may resemble those of the next, or not.
Each day is ripe for the reading. The gift is in waking with ready eyes.
So while it was only intermittently and fleetingly happy, this was exactly the Birth Day I needed.