Thursday, August 17, 2006

Ain't Birthdays Grand?

Today I turned 56 - a nice round number divisible by 2, 4, 7, 8, 14, and 28. My son Nick is almost 28, so that makes me twice his age, something I didn’t think about when I was 28 and he was an infant. I do not mind being 56 though. It just seems a little unreal to me. My older children – 32 and 27 – are ages that I feel like more than I feel like 56.

Perhaps once you become an adult, it no longer matters what age you are in terms of how you feel inside. I have felt grown-up for so many years that I can no longer fathom it. Did my childhood exist?

I wish I had more vivid memories of my childhood. When I read memoirs of people’s youths, I am always astonished by the details they recall. Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood comes to mind.

Even today, I feel that I do not notice or know enough about the world around me. Except for a few well-known ones, I do not know the names of trees and flowers and birds. The names of songs and the artists who sing them escape me for the most part. I cannot remember actors’ names or movie titles, let alone the minutiae of producers and directors that others seem to have command of. I cannot even remember the names of most authors or books I read, which is ironic because reading and writing are so important to me.

If I ever stumbled onto the set of a quiz show, I would be humiliated in short order. Trivial Pursuits is not my best board game. And yet, I am engaged in the world, well-read, up on current events. I take it all in, but most of it does not stick.

Feelings stick, though. Emotional content resonates vividly for me. I may not remember the kind of tree I am sitting under, but I know absolutely how I felt under that tree. So perhaps I just have different radar than other people, picking up on context, not content.

This is a digression from my intended discourse, something I frequently do, as my writing colleague, Winston, is apt to remind me. But I do not mind digressions. They are often the most interesting parts of life to me.

Back to my birthday before I digress again. My friends and family helped me to celebrate in the most lovely and loving way. My mother called to wish me a happy birthday for her and my father, and to tell me she planned to mail me a quilt tomorrow, her “last quilt” as she put it. (Although I know she will be making more crib quilts, the babies just keep coming in our family.) My dear friends, Cheryl and Dan, sent me an exquisite – and tasty – edible arrangement of melons and pineapple. We ate some of it with dinner tonight and enjoyed every bite.

Nick and Julia gave me a lovely amber necklace that Julia bought in Prague over the summer. Michael and Tori gave me three wonderful books – Four Souls by Louise Erdrich, Conqueror’s Moon by Julian May, and 500 Pitchers from Lark Books. Louise Erdrich is one of my favorite writers, a fellow North Dakotan who I have had the pleasure of hearing read. Julian May is another favorite, a sci-fi writer. I collect pitchers, and my friend and writing colleague Tom Perry has a pitcher featured in the compendium (page 405). So you can see that these books all made me very happy. In addition, Michael and Tori gave me several coupons for special help on everything from car washes to sorting files. What nice people!

Alix plans to give me flowers for the planter boxes Michael built for our pergola as soon as she is out of the hospital, but her real gift to me will be recovering her health. When I first became ill with lupus 17 years ago, my mother told me how upset she felt about my illness. I understand those feelings so much better now that my own daughter is ill. The sense of helplessness feels overwhelming. Mothers are supposed to be able to make things better and I can hardly stand it that I cannot do that.

Another digression threatens; back to my point. I am surrounded by people who love me. What a joy that is. All the frustrations I have had lately seem inconsequential stacked up against the happiness in my life. I feel blessed.


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