Birthday Musings During a Pandemic

Light_SanJoseI took the day off from work to celebrate my presence on this earth for over fifty-something years. But now the rush to enjoy the time off doing nothing leaves me stymied, almost paralyzed, by what to do. Today is the one good weather day for the next few days so I want to be outside as much as possible. To write. To garden. To just sit.

Today I feel the absence of my parents. My son, off to get a half-dozen donuts, intuitively knows this is how Pop-Pop, my father, would celebrate. My mother would call me this evening, sing happy birthday in her raspy voice. As a child, we would celebrate my parents’ birthdays by traveling to the Outer Banks, where we’d do nothing and everything, let the sound of air and waves and birds and singing sand carry us.

Stuff I took for granted until donuts and songs were no more.

I can still remember days I’ve lived like they were yesterday. Most memories involve the sun: laying on the grass in Chapel Hill as my boyfriend of the time (an expert in William Blake!) snaps headshots; half-sleeping in the hammock in our first Maryland house to the murmur of lawnmowers, radios from passing cars, the gentle buzz of cicadas; light slanting through the patio window onto the living room floor of my first apartment in Chapel Hill, the blue, blue living room rug, our only furniture a beanbag and raft. The sun up North had a different, whiter quality: I remember tea parties on my friends’ Brookline balconies, wandering the Boston Fens, my grandparents’ trailer in Brookfield and how the air always smelled of fresh-mown hay, the coolness of morning belying the hot summer haze that arrived by afternoon. I remember another garden, inspecting broken earth, waiting for asparagus tips to surge through the cracks. The way light and air carry the song of the ocean—in Maine, Hatteras, Dewey Beach, Cape Cod—constant, the earth’s heartbeat.

I long for that song.

Yesterday the season’s first hummingbird touched down on the Miss Kim lilac, then the half-opened pink rose. Mom’s spirit animal, telling me she was thinking of me, checking in on the kids, making sure everything is all right. Is it all right? Other than the sense of the world coming to an end (a bang? A whimper?), we are okay, Mom. We muddle through this new normal as only humans can adjust—one moment at a time. I am relieved you experience the earth’s current crisis from beyond the clouds because this thing would’ve killed you—if not the actual infection but the fear of it.

I am grateful my children are with me. They make me feel less alone than I really am. They have good hearts, and my heart, which has been overfull these past two years, has difficulty expressing the comfort and care they need. They are growing resilience just as I am growing spinach and lettuce and, soon, tomatoes and cucumber and squash.

Today is my birthday. A day like any other. How will I spend it? Musing, I think, and remembering. Grasping at good memories, turning them over like shells collected at ocean’s edge and placing them at my ear to hear their music, expressing my gratitude, and then, returning them to their rightful spots.

Stay well, and peace…