Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.
― Maya Angelou
I celebrated my 46th birthday this week. I have a long and sordid history with birthdays that I will not resurrect in this post, but I will say, after this past May I did not have the wherewithal to rally for yet another event. After a month of anticipating and preparing for the graduation of my firstborn, revisiting the death of my mother 34 years prior, and some additional vulnerability-producing scenarios, I didn’t quite have it in me. But the voices begin and persist, don’t they? The shoulds prattle on about the celebration of life, and choosing joy, and remembering how many have no more birthdays, and being grateful. Needless to say, I was short on perspective and long on shame.
So I went for a walk. Oftentimes I’ll listen to a podcast but I felt the need to work through the whatevers of my situation. I cried and pulled out the last vestiges of grief, for now. I looked up at the sky and down at my shadow, watched the birds dip and dive, checked the mountains for signs, listened to the ducks, stood like a proud mother as my dog splashed in every chance of water. I have a good situation here. My circuitous path is contemplative enough and quiet, surrounded by a growing suburbia with protected open spaces.
And rarely, if ever, in this neighborhood stroll do I find homeless folks.
But on my 46th birthday, I did. It’s a surprising sight over here, but I don’t take issue with our homeless folks. I find their stories fascinating and I try to help here and there when I can. This particular man happened to be tinkering with his bike trailer when I showed up. I stopped on the path and asked how his morning was.
“Shitty.” He said.
I responded quickly with, “Me too. And it’s my birthday.”
“What’s your name? I’m Jen.” We shook hands.
“Hi Jen, I’m Perish, because I’d much rather be dead.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Perish. Well, good to meet you. And who’s this?” As a fluffy three-legged dog of Australian Shepherd origin came ambling over to meet my Clem.
“Oh, this is Gracie.”
“And this is Clem.” I replied as I watched the dogs sniff and get acquainted.
He continued on about living in Las Vegas and moving here to pursue more work in construction but he could get paid much better in Vegas. He said he needed to get a shower and a shave. I asked if he was aware of our homeless shelter and he affirmed that he was. I mentioned my husband was very involved in the shelter’s work.
“Oh, well that answers my next question.” He said with a dejected tone.
“What do you mean? What’s your question?” I pressed.
“I wanted to see if you wanted to go out with me tonight.”
And just like that, I was better. I got asked out by a man named Perish and his three-legged dog Gracie, on my forty-sixth birthday. I had now what I needed. Some new perspective and a lilt in my step.
I returned home with minutes to spare before a busy day doing all sorts of Left Hand Church things. My heart was lightened.
I will always have a contentious relationship with my birthday, but in our house we do birthday weeks so as not to place all the expectation on one day. It works better for us all, reducing triggers and disappointments. And I feel this way too for most minor holidays. Spread out the love, minimize the pressure, take it easy.
The day before my birthday, on Monday, I bought new sheets. On Tuesday, I put them on my bed freshly washed and ready to go. I love a new set of sheets, crisp and clean. Later in the day I learned of Kate Spade’s tragic and untimely death. The fresh sheets I put on my bed that birthday morning were from Kate Spade – a brand I have never purchased in my life.
Make of it what you will. She, in her life and in her death, is providing beauty that offers timeless comfort and rest. I will continue to thank her as I lay my head on the pillow tonight and every night until the sheets are frayed and worn. Another birthday lesson, to appreciate the goodness of life’s simple pleasures and comforts.
For what it’s worth, friends, we know not what each person we meet is enduring. We cannot know from a cursory glance or a stilted conversation, but we can certainly be curious. We can receive that which is given, oftentimes not what we were expecting, but a gift nonetheless. Every encounter, big or small, has the power to change a life. Or at least a day.
And hey, you never know, it could be someone’s forty-sixth birthday and the best thing you can say when asked, How’s your day? is to respond with, Shitty.