Tuesday, December 14, 2004

As you blow out the matches...

As this day, my day of celebration comes to a close, I have much to celebrate. To begin the day, Steve and the kids showered me with thoughtful and wildly excessive gifts. There was jewelry, a very cool poncho, a soap/lotion/bath gel set that smells wonderful, and several gift cards that will take the better part of this coming year to deplete. With my love for Starbucks, crafting, and reading in mind, they filled my coffers with more than enough to put me on a first-name basis with the friendly sales staff at several local establishments. If my skin weren’t such a deep milk chocolate brown, I’m sure I would have been a bold crimson red from blushing; their generosity was overwhelming.

It’s hard for me to accept the love and appreciation of others, but I guess that’s true for many. Most of the time I don’t feel deserving of anyone’s love. Often when I read the things I write in my journal and explore my deepest, darkest crevices, I am convinced that if anyone knew me as I truly am, they wouldn’t love me. But there is no one on the planet who knows me better than the three people who watched me wide-eyed as I opened their bountiful packages, and they have never hesitated to call out for me when they are sick, when they have a new gadget to show and tell me about, or when they want to just sit close and cuddle. On nearly a daily basis, they confess to loving me, and on a daily basis, their devotion leaves me without words. So to them I say, “Thanks.”

Yesterday I wondered what I would do with one fantastic hour on my birthday. After much deliberation and negotiation, the three of us piled into the minivan and made our way to the South Park Mall. I realize that is the name of a lewd, poorly-regarded television series that I am proud to say I have never seen; it is also the name of quite the upscale shopping spot here in Charlotte. We inaugurated my new Starbucks card and sat at the window bar watching the well-endowed shoppers parade past with packages and parcels of all sizes, shapes, colors, and origins in their arms. Then we strolled through a few shops, made several purchases of our own, and otherwise enjoyed ourselves. Well, Kristiana and I did. Daniel protested every part of the outing except for his strawberries and cream frappuccino. I stood toe to toe with him and said, “Listen, when it’s your birthday, we won’t come to the mall, but today is my day. We are doing what I want to do today, okay?” When one of the saleswomen asked why the children weren’t in school, I said, “It’s my birthday, so I took them out of school to celebrate with me.” Daniel rolled his eyes.

Last week, I wrote about a book I was reading at the time called One Year Off. What a tale of great adventures on the road David Cohen told. One of their last stops in Asia was in a remote cave full of statues of Buddha. Without a flashlight, they were unable to see much. So the author pulled out a book of matches and lit them one at a time illuminating for brief seconds their colorful and sacred surroundings. “When I lit a match, it formed a small circle of light around us. In that circle, hundreds of tall thin Buddhas stood sentry. Each time I lit another match this gentle army sprang to life, and each time it flickered out, we were plunged back into darkness. It was a remarkable effect, very spiritual, and it made me consider how far we’d come in this last year. It was almost a year ago, exactly, that we were living a pretty ordinary life in the suburbs of San Francisco. Now we found ourselves 1500 miles up the Mekong River, igniting matches, one after another, in a pitch-black cave surrounded by thousands of carved Buddhas. It all went by so quickly, this journey of ours – just one brief luminous scene after another.” He then went on to describe the countries, cities, and homes they had visited. He ended with a more wide-angled view, comparing the lighting of the matches in the cave with the lighting of matches in life.

And as I sit here pondering my birthday, I can’t help but ask where have these 39 years gone? What is illuminated in the circles of light in which I have stood? It is certainly going by quickly, and so much of what I recall corresponds to his artfully rendered description of alternating deep darkness and luminous scenes. I remember brief snatches of my childhood in Brooklyn. I remember learning Braille in elementary school so I could pass notes with Loddie, the blind boy in my 5th and 6th grade class. Did he know he was the only white student in the class? Then there were six years at Poly Prep, the school with the tall white tower at the foot of the Verrazano Bridge. I wasn’t blind; I knew I was the only black student in most of my classes. Then there were six years at Williams: four as an undergrad and two as a member of the staff. It was there that I discovered the world of political science, some of the glaring injustices in our world, the power of multi-national corporations, and the power of protest. I went to football games as both a fan and a field commentator, sat in on art history lectures even though I hadn’t registered for that class, and met the man who is now my dearly beloved husband. I also stayed up late, laughing with friends, dancing at BSU parties, and quietly joyfully journaling as many details as I could remember. Then there was marriage, two children, a graduate degree in exchange for reading books I loved and writing papers I cherish to this day, my father-in-law’s death, my father’s death, and an unexpected move to Charlotte.

I’m guessing that at this point in my life’s journey, I’ve lit about half my matches. I have gazed with awe and wonder around the cave holding the many sacred relics of my own life. I am thankful for every time I’ve burned my fingers and my heart as the light has gone out on the life of a loved one or the life of a friendship: I have loved and been loved. I am thankful for every time I’ve soothed a feverish forehead, rubbed Elidel into eczema, and applied Vicks Vaporub to congested chests: I have two children that rely on me to provide comfort when they are in pain. I am thankful for every page I read, every page I have written, and every wandering thought I have had: my mind and heart are made stronger with every one. I’m grateful for every candle on my cake, every old-age joke, and every laugh line around my eyes; I have lived long, lived well, and I’ve been “laughing all the way” – well, a lot of the way. For the most part, mine is an ordinary and uneventful life. Nonetheless, mine is a much enjoyed and richly blessed life. I pray that I will willfully and courageously light whatever matches that remain and discover again and again the mysteries and miracles that sometimes hide in the shadowy cave that my life often resembles. For these 39 years and for whatever time is left to me, I say, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” Happy Birthday, indeed!

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