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Saturday, July 15, 2017

WHY I AM GRIEVING MY BIRTHDAY

Soon I will be celebrating a “milestone birthday”.  Not a fun milestone, mind you.  We are not talking Sweet 16 here.   We are talking officially over-the-hill and on the way down.

People stopped making a fuss over my birthday ages ago. 

No one has ever thrown me a surprise party or taken me on a spa weekend (hint, hint).  Nine years ago I literally spent my birthday at a family wedding.  Someone knowingly scheduled their wedding on my 41st birthday and I was required to attend.  
They are divorced, btw, for a while now.  Happy Birthday to me.

So there’s the math for you; I can’t say the number out loud but UGH.  How did this happen? 

I remember my 11th birthday like it was yesterday!
We were about to move away from the wonderful neighborhood where we had spent the last 7 years, my entire elementary school education.  My parents let me throw a going away bash with my best local friends plus my childhood BFF from out of town.  A sleepover, no less!  We stayed up practically all night, raided the fridge, ran around the yard in our pajamas.  We listened to the soundtrack of Grease, which I had received as a gift. 

That was the hot movie my 11th summer.  More math for you.

I remember that birthday perhaps more than any other in my lifetime because it truly defined “the end of an era”.  Life was never as simple and free after we moved away.  Of course, this was partly the function of dawning adolescence; but it also was the leaving behind of people and a place where I felt truly comfortable and truly at home.
That feeling of home and belonging has been somewhat elusive ever since.

So here I am, on the eve of another big birthday and I just got some difficult news; our beloved next-door neighbors from those many years ago, a devoted couple, passed away last weekend within hours of each other.  It’s hitting me hard, I admit it.  As anyone who reads my blog knows, the last year of my life has not been a good one and I had been, as a result, horribly remiss in being in contact with them.  They had recently left that house I grew up next to and moved into an assisted living facility where they had no private phone (they never took to the internet), and I (lazily) had neglected to write, a habit we had been in since I left town in 1978.
Ironically, I briefly chronicled our relationship on this blog after what was to be our very last phone conversation in 2015.  That conversation reminded me that what is real is forever; the handful of times we spent together after the move provided tangible proof.  They were my tribe, my people.  And even though they are gone now, they will always be a part of who I am.

This is a good thing to remember as I grieve this “big” birthday.  Another year has gone by where I didn’t make changes I have been determined to make and didn’t hit goals I thought would be under my belt ages ago.  The deeper I wade into middle-age, the more urgent these desires become; time’s a wastin’!  No time like the present, old lady!
I am not anywhere near where I imagined I would be by this age.  Nothing about my life seems settled or set; I feel more adrift than I did 20 years ago, when I still believed my path was leading somewhere specific.  Turns out, not so much.

But losing these old friends has reminded me that often it is not the trail we beat our way down that leads to contentment, but rather the path we stumble upon.  I certainly did not “set an intention” to live next-door to those good people for seven years; being the young child that I was, I can hardly believe I earned their lifelong affection through any deliberate behavior or choices I made.  They loved me and I loved them because we did.  We just did; and it was real and it lasted “forever”. 
I grieve their passing, but with gratitude for all the comfort and happiness that relationship brought me.  And so I will grieve this birthday as well, grieve that passage of yet another year where I did not “make happen” what I wanted to happen.  But I will grieve with gratitude for all the comfort and happiness so many people in my life still bring me in spite of my shortcomings.  Because it is the goodness we did not “earn” that makes us feel most blessed; the love we perhaps don’t always “deserve” that is the most healing.

We spend our lives, between those birthdays, working for what we want and working to keep what we have that we enjoy and working to get rid of those things we don’t.   We are always working at something, with wildly varied results.  But when we sit back on that day that is meant to be celebrated, it is the gifts we rejoice in most…and I don’t mean the birthday gifts, although some may qualify.
I mean the things life has “gifted us”, the things we didn’t “earn”…a strong body or a strong will, a beautiful face or a beautiful disposition, a kind heart or a kind neighbor.  These are the things that make us feel at “home”; these are the things that help us to understand that we matter, no matter what.  That we are intrinsically worthy, even if we never make that first million or the cover of a magazine.

I have had a hard year and the smoke doesn’t seem to want to clear for me.  I am wandering a bit blind at the moment, wondering if there is something I should do differently or some call I am not hearing.  I am grieving the clarity of my youth while embracing the uncertainty of my future.
I certainly wasn’t looking for something specific when my family moved to that neighborhood the year I turned four, but the gifts of those years have resonated deeply within me every day since.  So on my birthday I will have faith, as I blow out the metaphorical candles, that there are gifts before me I cannot even anticipate, or imagine.  And those are the gifts that will make me feel most blessed—the ones I did not even know I wanted or needed.

My wonderful friends, with my mother and son, c. 2007

3 comments:

  1. Ah, Kara...and they just keep coming. I'll be 72 in September. How the hell did that happen? One year after another. My first (and only) book came out in 2014 when I was almost 69. My TEDx talk happened that year, too. My husband's death was when I was 62 and that turned everything upside down and sent me down entirely new trails. Even I can see I've grown in good ways as I've aged. I'm less volatile, better with disappointment (especially disappointments with myself), more appreciative of quality green tea,small kindnesses, and the strength to walk up a steep path. I have utmost faith in the power of your life and the wisdom unfolding in your soul. Happy birthday.

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    1. Thank you, Elaine. I am struggling in a new way, which I intellectually understand is a good thing while emotionally I feel like I am drowning in sadness. A lot of my life has been about serendipity so I will hold on tight while stumble along this path. There must be a pony here somewhere!

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  2. Kara,
    Of all the people I've met and known in my life, you are one that I always looked up to (literally AND figuratively!), whose calm demeanor and knowledge years beyond you, that I admired. To read this entry makes me a bit sad that you feel so adrift and unsettled. You have done tons! Things that some only can aspire to achieve.
    You have a beautiful son that you're raising into a young man - that in itself is quite an accomplishment. You've traveled and lived places, while others - like me - have stayed sediment, never moving!
    I believe that if you let go of all the stresses and things that you feel are unanswered, undone or unaccomplished, therein will lie an answer when you least expect it.
    Love and Wishing you the Happiest of Birthdays,
    Your Other Little Sister. Xoxo

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