My sixty-fifth birthday yesterday surprised me by being wonderful, ranking right up there with my tenth and thirty-fifth as a favorite. I felt loved and indulged, and I gave myself a break from analyzing whether or not I deserved it. I was attentive to the present, and grateful.
Among other gifts there was the blessing of rain. My two tall friends came to visit, and we went for a short walk up the muddy puddled canyon. Sometimes we were showered upon, and sometimes the sun broke through and the leaves were sparkling like diamonds. It was that kind of day. The air by the orchard was redolent with the heady fragrance of orange blossoms whose fallen white petals had piled up at the base of the tree. I scooped up a couple of handfuls and tossed them like confetti above my head, a little California blizzard, and I felt a sense of gratitude and joy. I live where orange trees grow, and this is a measure of attainment.
I have been thinking a lot about identity lately…who we were, are, and become. I wonder to what extent there is a fundamental continuity and to what extent we become completely different people over time. I’m deeply interested in how life alters us, particularly in the aftermath of my mother’s death and all the old sorrows it reawakened, the depression against which I have been struggling, and the coping mechanisms that have gradually become new patterns and have reshaped me so much that I honestly feel molecularly rearranged. I don’t know who I am anymore. I only know I am different.
It’s funny but I have recently learned that I’m different even in a literal DNA sense: I had an Ancestry.com DNA test done and discovered that my genetic components are not quite what I thought they were, and it’s probably silly and symbolic but this too makes me view myself in a different light.
And I am thinking about the constant striving to learn and improve and create, to accept or defy, to figure out how to relate to others and how to be of service, to quell the sorrow and give wonder its due, to discover our infinitesimal place in the universe and be our best within it.
I am pondering all this in terms of my mother as well as myself…the tormented and difficult mother she was in earlier decades versus the brave and endearing creature she became in her final years, and I feel as though perhaps the final version was the most authentic, hard-won essence. I wish I had more conspicuously honored and loved her in that last season. I think life is so difficult, even for those of us with easy lives, and her life certainly was anything but easy. I am humbled by those who face old age with bravery and dignity and try to be affable and make the best of things.
Now I am close enough to the old age side to acknowledge that I’m headed there myself. I’ve done all the Social Security paperwork and gotten pension procedures in place, and my mailbox is littered with big envelopes from AARP and Medicare, and what once seemed remote and abstract is honestly upon me.
On my birthday I pray that all the accumulated and ongoing realizations make me patient and kind, although in some ways they have also rendered me honest and unfiltered, which sometimes seems the opposite of kind. Then again, it’s a relief to acknowledge the absurdity of things, and it’s really kind of funny…and increasingly, I think a sense of humor can be a kind of salvation. It might even be form of courage, and we can all use a shot of that.
But I am a work in progress still.