"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Happy Birthday


I love birthdays. Always have. It doesn't matter whether it's mine, or the special day of someone I love, or a celebration of a character in a movie. Birthdays make me happy.

Childhood birthdays were a complicated mix of anticipation, thrill at being the center of attention and disappointment that the day was never quite enough of something I couldn't quite name. There were visits from grandparents and cakes and memorable gifts. I still have the topaz heart necklace that was my first official piece of jewelry, given the year I turned seven - a year that became one of those that alters the course of a family's life. There were also always the days after the birthday when life returned to a normal that seemed bleaker for having experienced the light and magic of one special day.

The one constant, from my earliest memory until my mom lost her way, was her saying on my birthday, "Ten (or twenty-nine, or forty-five) years ago today, at exactly 3:53 P.M., I was bringing you into the world." Even when I'd left home, even in the years when I couldn't bear to breathe air that had been in her lungs, for one day of every year she reached out to me to declare our connection.

I don't think she ever did that with my brothers. I've not asked them, and now I'll need to, but there are no memories of them sharing similar stories.

As this year's birthday approached, the last one of my fifties, I found myself thinking about why I still get excited. At this point in life, birthdays bring a burning away of illusion and a diminishment of potential. Death, which at twenty seemed impossible, begins to take shape as an inevitable reality, showing itself in new wrinkles and pains and memory losses. Not something normally celebrated.

I miss my mom's calls, even though many times I could hardly wait to get off the phone and back to a life safe from her. The year I entered the decade I'm about to leave, our family was split down the middle, a fracture that meant she (and one brother) didn't get invited to my surprise party. Even then, she called and left a message.

It's only now I realize her tradition was a way I knew she loved me, even when her actions often indicated otherwise. All those years she swore she'd done the best she could, it turns out to be the truth. And although that best wasn't nearly enough for a developing child, it was love.

And it's love that makes me thrilled every year at this time, thrilled at every birthday for anyone besides me. Birthday celebrations are a concentration of all the love that exists for a person in their life at a point in time. Cards, phone calls, Facebook messages, parties, lunches - each person's expression of birthday wishes is a spark in what becomes a brilliant light of love.

Each new year now, that light seems to grow brighter and brighter, even though my expectations for the day have diminished along with my eyesight and flexibility and stamina. In a life that started on a starvation diet of love, with barely enough to sustain a spirit, I feel rich beyond expression to experience such abundant love on my birthdays. An abundance that stays with me from one November 5 to the next.

Last Friday as I was helping my middle brother, Mark, set up his new antique business, he mentioned in the most casual of ways that we'd be having dinner with our other two brothers and their wives. I was excited to get to celebrate my birthday with all my brothers (and I love surprises), but it wasn't until the six of us were seated at the restaurant that I became truly aware of the unfolding miracle.


Five people went out of their way to spend an evening in the company of others that just a short time ago they couldn't share air or space with - to celebrate me. For the second time in a year, Mom's four children sat together in laughter and ease, teasing and taking pictures and sharing food and bits of lives with each other. This time, for the first time, we were joined by the two brave and beautiful women who married brothers whose paths diverged to the point of estrangement for the last decade.

I love birthdays because they are a time, like the brightest summer day, when it's impossible to not know that love exists in unlimited abundance. It's a time when I get close to understanding in a concrete way what God's love means. To be loved - there is no greater gift to receive. A gift from which even more love grows and finds its way back into the world. Light that releases even more light until the darkness is reduced to shadow with no power beyond what light allows.

32 comments:

Wanda..... said...

A Belated Happy Birthday!

You really couldn't look happier, Deb!

M said...

I totally loved this...and of course the day that I got to share with you. God had certainly been doing a great work in our lives. I'm glad the day was special for you...and I loved the irony you brought out about the birthday celebration that opened this decade of life for you, and the one that ended it.

Happy Birthday sis!!


Love
Mark

Jerri said...

Love glows on your face.

Happy, happy, happy birthday, dear friend.

Carrie Link said...

What a great story and wonderful, HAPPY pictures! Love wins.

deb said...

oh, this has me in tears.
Happy Birthday Deb,
and what wonderful circumstances to "meet" you in.

Gail said...

What a wonderful way to celebrate, making new memories!

Happy Birthday, late but still full of good wishes.

Barb said...

You look so happy, Deb! It's a happiness I think you richly deserve. My Belated Birthday wishes for a special year ahead for you.

kario said...

I hope that somehow your mom was aware of this lovely birthday dinner being had by her children.

You deserve more than one day a year of celebration. I hope you get it.

Love.

Teresa aka JW said...

Happy, Happy Birthday! You look fantastic and I am thinking you will at any age, which is not fair...to me. :)

Sandi said...

Deb, I'm so glad your day played out the way it did. Isn't it amazing that no matter how hard we try to orchestrate our lives, there's nothing we love more than when others step in and take us by surprise! I love your brothers for taking the time to love you, en masse! Bless their little hearts!

Thanks for sharing your day with us all.

Love you! Sandi

Amber said...

"In a life that started on a starvation diet of love, with barely enough to sustain a spirit, I feel rich beyond expression to experience such abundant love on my birthdays."

Beautiful beautiful!

:)

Wanda said...

So wonderful that the wounds have closed and everyone can sit around the same table again. (And that part about mortality? I'm right there with you.)

Happy birthday, my friend.

She Writes said...

Happy Birthday! The last photo is adorable, and it is a beautiful thing always to read of your family and all that continues to happen in your relationships.

sallylwess said...

I love that your birthday was such a blessing to you. Your writing is a blessing to others. The openness and honesty with which you write is always full of grace and mercy. It is good to see real joy as it radiates from your face when you are surrounded by your brothers. Keep writing.

Wen Baragrey said...

Happy Birthday, Deb! (Even if I'm a bit late).

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday Deb. I really loved this post. Beautiful and it made me happy. I love birthdays too, other a lot more than mine but I'm learning. Birthday are beautiful they reminds us of the day someone we love was brought into this world.
chloe

Katie Gates said...

You've done it again! My eyesight is diminishing as well, and at this very moment, the tears don't exactly help. What a beautiful post. Happy belated birthday to you!

Suzy said...

Happy Birthday My Friend!

And it's not over.....

Love

Suzy

Elenka said...

Happy, happy Birthday. Beautiful commentary. Family, when it's good, is everything.
(What gorgeous blue eyes everyone has!!)
I'm already into the next decade...I don't know how this happened....doesn't seem possible.)

Jessica Nelson said...

Oh, this is such a beautiful post!!! I'm so happy about what's happening in your family.
And that you're excited about your birthday is awesome! Happy Birthday! May there be many more to come. :-)

Patti Lacy said...

Deb, girl, can you ever write.
Thank you for sharing such a poignant story.

And...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!

Beautiful photo of you.

B. WHITTINGTON said...

Deb,
Thanks for this beautifully written piece about birthdays and family relationships. How we fall apart and come together again. The ebb and flow of life.
I loved reading about your meeting with Kathryn Magendie, may be spelled wrong!
I'm amazed at how women writers nurture one another from near or far in our endeavors.
Happy Birthday. Blessings.

Niki said...

You look soooo happy, and I'm so happy for you! The best gift of all, family, love, peace :-)
blessings and happy, happy birthday, Deb.

Niki

deborahjbarker said...

Beautiful photos Deb and as always, your words drew me in. How lovely that your brothers, their wives and you were able to share such a day depsite all that has gone before.
I have a very close and large family and I promise not to waste a day. :-)

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"A gift from which even more love grows and finds its way back into the world."

How lovely a sentiment is that. Happy Birthday, Deb. You look mahvelous.

#1Nana said...

I'm getting caught up on visiting blogs and so this is belated birthday greetings!

I really related to your story. Having just celebrated my 60th, I'm not quite ready to give in to the idea of declining years just yet. My granddaughters baked me cupcakes...it was, of course, the thought that counted. Those rare ocassions when I get together with my family are gifts.

Lorna said...

Happy Belated Birthday! Your insight about your mom touched me, and makes me appreciate my mother's calls now even more. You look fabulous, btw. Happy new decade :)

Lilith said...

Happy Birthday Deb. The photos say it all.

Kathryn Magendie said...

After having met you, it makes your writing even more poignant -- *smiling at you, dear Deb* - and another Happy Birthday wish your way.....

LauraX said...

How beautiful...your smile in the first photo is absolutely priceless...truly joyful Deb.

May all your days be filled with moments like this...perfect joy and appreciation for the sweetness in your life.

Kathryn Grace said...

Beautiful story. I give gratitude for the love that you received, however sparse, that you and your brothers might grow into the loving beings you are today.

Janna Qualman said...

I'm so sorry I missed this post on the day itself. The pictures are really great!

I can't wait to read and be moved by your memoir, Deb. (And that said, if you ever need an extra beta, you can count on me.)