Monday, December 13, 2004

Help - I'm fresh out of ideas!

Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m not quite at the big 4-0, but I’m getting really close. REALLY CLOSE. I’m definitely not one of those people who will unplug my phone and sit in the dark, or undergo radical reconstructive surgery in order to alternately mourn or ignore the passage of time in my life when I reach that imminent milestone. I have lived a life that has been jam-packed with passionate love, compassionate friendship, deepening faith, and many international adventures. There have also been deep internal conflicts, moments when suicide seemed like a viable alternative worth serious consideration, and countless days when running away from home was thwarted only by the cries of hungry children. As I reflect on the good days and the bad ones, I am grateful. I have met amazing men and women all around this globe who have brought light and laughter and love into my life and have changed me forever. I have read books, seen movies, and listened to lectures that have caused me to see the world, to see people, and to see myself in ways that were unfathomable to me beforehand. During my thirty-something years, I have walked hundreds of miles, driven thousands of miles, and flown tens of thousands of miles only to find that what I needed to see, learn, and understand was already inside me, wrapped in the fine threads of thought, prayer, meditation, good conversations with loved ones, great food with hungry friends, and sometimes even in the humorous cartoons of the Sunday paper. As I look ahead to tomorrow and the birthdays yet to come, I wonder what the next thirty-nine years will bring. I wonder who I will meet, whose words will inspire me to become a better person, and whose music will raise the roof of my soul. I wonder what countries I will explore alone and with my family in my endless quest for more life, more love, and more learning. I wonder what illnesses will befall us, what wars will ravage our world, and what we will do, what I will do to make a difference in the lives of those around me. It’s both soul-stirring and soul-stopping to look ahead and rhapsodize about what lies far ahead of me. But I will get off this lofty topic and bring it way down to earth.

I spoke to my ex-sister-in-law just a little while. (That term refers to the woman my foolish brother was too brain-dead to hold on to when he decided that single life was better than marriage and bringing up two beautiful daughters. Betcha can’t guess whose side I was on when the divorce was in the works…) She made an intriguing suggestion. But let me set the stage for her idea: three years ago, in December of 2001, I, the youngest of four children, the only daughter of a widowed mother and sole sister to three older brothers, went to bed on the night of December 14th, my birthday, without so much as a telephone call from any of the above. Now, let me be clear, I usually love my family members. I usually recall with some modicum of kindness and good-will our childhood. I usually send them holiday cards, write postcards when I travel, and otherwise go out of my way to be a supportive, loving, caring, and attentive sister – this after being tortured by them so extensively as a child that I am no longer ticklish on any part of my body. So it was quite saddening, distressing, mind-boggling, and downright unconscionable to me that all of them, all four of them forgot my birthday. That was a sad day indeed. After countless retellings of the tale to any and all who will listen and countless rewrites of that momentous day in my journal, I’m over it; well, not really, but I say that I am because it makes them feel better. See? There I go being the ideal sister and daughter again.

Oh, yeah – back to Cathy’s idea. She wisely said that I cannot rely on others to make my birthday special. She encouragingly said that my value in the world is not reflected by whether or not people who claim to care for me remember me on my birthday (or at any other time) and tell me what I mean to them. She was so right, and I needed to hear every word she said. For better or for worse, I often measure my self-worth by the words and silences of others. She ended our conversation with the following: “Gail, do something spectacular for yourself tomorrow, even if it only lasts an hour.” What a concept! Something special for myself! No need to wait for someone else to pick the perfect present or make the perfect cake or arrange for the hot rocks massage to end all hot rocks massages. But look at the time: It’s already after 7 PM. What can I arrange on such short notice? Who will watch the children? What will I wear? And more important than any of those questions is this: What will I do? With only an hour, what spectacular thing could I do? My husband will be at work all day, has a work-related Christmas social that will continue into the evening hours, and the children have basketball practice until 9 PM, so the first thing that came to mind will have to be postponed. A stroll through a favorite piazza and chiesa in Rome would prove difficult to pull off, as would an hour in “my chair” at that caffe I love so much just off the Tevere. Walking through the old city in La Coruna with a dear friend who always makes me laugh with stories of teaching precocious students isn’t possible either. An hour in the Met, the MoMA, the Guggenheim, or even Charlotte’s Mint Museum would amount to nothing more than an artistic appetizer. The main course of art appreciation and consumption must be enjoyed very slowly.

Ultimately, I am without a definite plan. I don’t particularly like manicures, and it’s too cold (35 degrees) for a pedicure; I couldn’t possibly walk to the car in flip-flops. Besides, who sees my toes anymore now that sandal weather is behind me? I don’t need any clothes, so a trip to the mall isn’t particularly appealing - although perhaps a makeover would be fun. Nah – then I’d just feel compelled to buy something I don’t need. Perhaps an hour of artwork, collage-making, or journaling would be fun. Solitude at Starbucks or an hour of perusing the library stacks are favorite activities of mine, but then again, I can do any of those last five or six things anytime.

I know I’ll spend the next three or four hours trying to come up with something clever and creative and tantalizing. Care to help me? Care to toss a few good ideas my way for how to spend an hour in spectacular fashion on my birthday? No idea is too small; I’ve already got the big ones covered…

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