I was greeted with posters, potted plants and balloons around every bend. Beaming faces, banners and birthday music dotted the trail as friends and family members conspired to surprise me with an outdoor fiesta for my fiftieth birthday. Rob gave me a beautiful ring in a Tiffany box, following in the footsteps of my father, whose ritual present to Mom extended to me and my sister when we became adults. So Dad was there, too, in Rob's thoughtful gesture.
After more than a half-mile of gathering partygoers like pied pipers, we stopped at a colorful picnic table to toast and elbow-bump. The vaccinated among us even hugged. My family presented me with a priceless treasure, a book compiled from scores of letters, poems, and notes, embellished with photos of loved ones over the decades. A half-century of memories, backlit in bright pastels.
Fifty years may be short on the geologic time scale but it's lengthy for a human, for me. The breadth of my life now includes almost twenty-five years with my husband, almost twenty years of child-rearing, sixteen years with my friends in Colorado. I can look back over the landscape of my life and see the valleys that began with my mistakes, the torturous routes to climb back up to the heights, and the amazing individuals that stood with me along the way.
As I attempted to tell my friends on Saturday, I have never spent so many years in one place, never been so vulnerable, so grateful for friendship that stood firm in the face of trauma, of near-tragedy. In joyful, yet heavy, gratitude for their support, I broke down in ugly tears that seemed at once out of place and yet totally fitting.
The birthday miracles continued this week as I was able to fly to Montana to meet my mother and sister. They stood outside in the airport parking lot and I heard them shouting, saw them waiting, as soon as I burst out the doors into the wintry weather. After barely pausing to avoid a passing SUV, I threw myself into their arms and we stood blocking the path in a three-way hug where tears and joy once more danced a lopsided jig. Thank God for science, for doctors and nurses, as the vaccine made or reunion possible after fifteen months of absence.
My oldest younger brother surprised us that night, my sister mistaking him for an extremely late deliveryman and refusing to open the door. My Mom calmly walked to the door and unlocked it over Karen's protests, revealing John with a pink birthday card envelope in hand. Our collective amazement extended to the family zoom call yesterday, when John revealed himself in the background of our screen, to the shock and awe of remaining family members.
I can't help but compare this milestone birthday to others. I hope that I'm less selfish now, more loving, humble and aware of my own frailties, more forgiving of others'. I hope to regain some of the childhood confidence that I've lost over the past two decades of raising kids, to cultivate the creativity that's been subsumed by planning and list-making. Mostly, I hope to continue building friendships, spending time with loved ones, and holding gratitude for the ties the bind.