A little over a week ago, I had planned to write a birthday piece basically just listing my wants, hoping some of you regular readers would take pity on me and mail/e-mail me the bounty, or at least point me in the online direction of where to purchase my gift bags.
Pure greed, I tell ya.
Two events changed the tone of my gimme slightly.
Oh, I still want a bunch of material things to commemorate my entrance into official middle age, the big 4-0... a movie poster with British actor Damian Lewis in it, an advanced DVD set featuring all of Mr. Lewis’s projects, including his latest movie release, “Brides,” a PC laptop so I can write all my columns overseas and out of town (which I will be after Christmas and through February), a compilation CD of all the greatest gospel-funk hits, preferably from the choirs of Detroit, Brooklyn and Chicago, a year’s supply of home-made gingerbread men or gingerbread spice cake, an ornament in the likeness of an ice cube snowman that I saw at Costco, all of the rest of Oleta Adams’ CDs, released only in Europe, as well as front-row tickets to her concert at Seattle’s Paramount next spring...
While I’m at it, I wouldn’t mind a few immaterial things, too... 30-40 pounds lighter and toner, 20 years shaved off my actual age, my IBS-D, allergies and sporadic back/neck pain gone, teeth as straight and clean and bright and perfect as a Hollywood A-lister’s, a cruise around the world (this one I’m sort of getting during the Valentine’s Day week, when son and mom join daddy on his Princess Cruises gig to Mexico), the ability to eat anything I want in any amount without regaining all that weight or feeling the right side of my chest seize up, the ability to sleep for only 15 minutes and feel as if I’ve slept for 24 hours, the superpower of “Bewitched’s” Samanatha (Nicole Kidman’s playing her in a movie version, don’t ya know) to wiggle her nose, a skill I’ve yet to master without liberal use of my fingers, and voila! the entire house cleaned, painted and fixed as if brand new, with several rooms added to equal over 3,000 square feet, so we won’t have to move away and around searching for that perfectly spacious but impossibly cheap dream home close to our existing neighbors...
Throw in world peace, the end to wars, starvation, pollution, telemarketers, SPAM and those god awful music awards show extravaganzas, and I just may be satisfied.
But don’t spring a surprise party on me, like several church friends did for one of their own last Monday. I enjoyed sitting on the couch (no, Mae-B, I didn’t have to hide behind it) with 20-30 other guests, away from the doorway entrance, waiting for the guest of honor to show up and scream, “Surprise!” I especially enjoyed the attending children flipping out in anticipatory excitement, taking peeks, getting yelled at by their parents to keep their heads down and be quiet, telling each other to be quiet in loud voices and generally running amuck for the four long, interminable minutes it took for Bryon to escort his wife Becca over the threshold for what she assumed would be a meeting of the worship team at the music director’s house.
Two seconds before Becca went through the door, little Tara – who’s about two days younger than James, they’re both almost three – decided to sprint across the hall past the entrance. Her mother Beth grabbed her at the last minute, pulling Tara back, the kid gets ready to bawl her head off and Beth, God bless her, quickly puts a hand over her youngest daughter’s mouth... just as my own son James wanted out of my lap, doing that taut stretching his body thing, and was about to join Tara (he’s always ready for a good running around the room)... and just as Becca, the birthday girl turning 30, walks up the stairs from the entrance looking slightly confused, then breaking out into a bawl herself.
She yelled at the conspirators in on the surprise party, “You suck!,” but her shining eyes clearly told another story.
The moment was classic, equal parts drama and comedy, absurd at times, golden at others. I felt privileged to be a witness.
That entire night felt surreal, as if I morphed into the being of someone accepted in society, belonging to a “Friends”-type popular, but offbeat gang, and as unaffected – a beautiful sight – as everybody else in their gold hues. Instead of hiding in the bathroom, chasing after my son as an excuse not to engage, I actually chatted up more than one person, mingling and joking like a real honest-to-goodness grown-up. Best of all, the other people treated me like one of them, welcomed me without giving it a second thought, without hesitation, including me in their conversations, asking my opinions, even putting their arms around me in a casual She’s one of us manner, during the gift-opening portion of the party. I don’t know whether I’d changed, gotten more used to the choir and band members from my church (after a year, you’d think I would) and acted less self-consciously, or whether they finally realized I wasn’t going anywhere and began to appreciate me, but it felt for the first time like being home with a very extensive family... instead of facing a firing squad of the snobby in crowd.
As I told another guest, Bev – both our families will converge at her house to do Thanksgiving together, another first outside my hibernating comfort zone – “Y’know, if Eddie tried to pull a surprise party on me, nobody would show up except Eddie and James, maybe you and Jim. I mean, who else do I know?”
“Same here. It’d be like, okay, there’s one person...”
“But I don’t mind going to someone else’s surprise party. It’s fun not having to worry about who to invite and who will show up. That way, I can live through Becca’s popularity.”
30... I remember turning 30. I wanted to make a big deal out of it, maybe get drunk with my posse, only, I didn’t have a posse to get drunk with, so I ended up doing what I always do on my birthday, going to a nice restaurant with my husband, overeating and sleeping in early and late. Whoo hoo!
Truth be told, I don’t really remember birthdays, or my actual age, since I turned a legal 21 ancient ages ago. The years since have been a blur of mostly forgettable experiences and a lot of waiting around for the next big event to preoccupy my time. The last great bash I ever enjoyed on the event of my advancing one year was probably back in Ft. Shafter, Hawaii, in our military tract house, turning all of eight, with my then-best friend Belinda by my side, me forced in a goofy pointy cone hat by my dad, the always pink, sickly sweet cake, pin the tail on the donkey, gifts I never wanted, and waiting for the chance to just go back outside and play kickball with Belinda, Sheldon and a few other neighbor kids in the block.
I worry about birthdays. I’m not an artsy-fartsy party planner type in the least. Neither is my husband Eddie. We’d just as soon do something either very boring and ordinary – the dinner out – or unconventional and extravagant – James will go to Disney World with hopefully our friends and their kids from St. Petersburg for his third birthday, in between selling the Spring Hill house Eddie’s parents left behind.
I’ve attended friends’ birthday parties for their children and been intimidated to do the same. James could probably invite a million people to his parties and they’d come, he’s just a naturally friendly, charming, gorgeous child who, in typical Aquarian fashion, counts everybody, young and old, as a bud. But Carol, James’ mom, in typical Scorpio fashion, would prefer to keep his parties closer to home, with immediate family, low-key, subdued, maybe a from-scratch chocolate cake, his favorite gifts, and then he can go off and do whatever he wants with his buddies later, as he grows up.
I dunno. I’ll probably let him take over the house and do the party himself, while husband supervises and I go back to Deception Pass, Cornet Bay in Whidbey Island for a retreat of my own.
I just came back from there, three whole days of God, with a small portion of God’s people. And I can’t shake off the feeling that I’ve somehow fallen madly, completely in love and been loved so completely in return—by God’s only begotten son, Jesus Christ.
Nothing evangelical happened. I didn’t fall to the floor speaking in tongues, although I did fall apart emotionally in front of my new best friend from choir who was also there, Terrie, when I tried to tell her that I think God brought her to me so I wouldn’t feel so alone during choir rehearsals like I had last year... and at the very sight of Becca tearing up as she gazed deep into my eyes and tried to tell me how she felt about me having grown so much from a year ago when she introduced me to choir in the first place, then me begging her to “Stop it,” and falling helplessly in her arms, as we both sobbed like children.
This doesn’t feel the same as when I went to Campus Life’s two camps back in high school, a winter and summer that junior year. I came off on a manufactured high merely to fit in, but quickly fell back to earth the following day, immersed again in the secular world, feeling in the end nothing but the burden place on my shoulders to convert the unwashed and start at Ala Moana shopping center in one hour. That high didn’t last long, and probably contributed to my turning away from God for the longest of time.
The closest I can come to a description is, it feels as if God’s soul, the Holy Spirit, and the true spirits of all the Christians also attending retreat just sneaked into my own soul, and decided to stay there ... when I was and wasn’t looking.
They slipped in, between worship and a delicious dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, while I observed my brothers and sisters in Christ help out in the kitchen, playing cards in the dining room, breaking into laughter over a game of Cranium, turning toward the dimming light over a break in the cliffs and the waters beyond the back deck of the dining hall, back to another Carol, quietly moving her hands to the classical music a foreign visitor played on my husband’s keyboard, back to the kitchen with Kevin and Steph still there, stirring the pots, clearing the decks, stealing a smooch in front of the microwave, Barb, the Pampered Chef Lady, standing over the simmering angel hair, lifting strands in a steam washing over Gina and Christina, stills of poetic, photogenic justice haunting my memories still, face naturally lifting into a smile the entire time.
Shared experiences kept my memories alive. The eight of us in the best cabin, the only cabin with a restroom/showers attached, sweating in a sauna from the heater on all day, everybody snoring in rhythm, tag-teaming access into the toilets, the sinks, Juanita cracking me up with her one-liners and surprising me with her tirade against labeling minorities, our final day chipping in together to get the cabin cleaned, casually talking of ipods, laundry and finding a missing earring, like ... family, I guess.
It hit me later on, back at my house, in the quiet of approaching midnight as I lay on my bed listening to myself breathe. I don’t always like the family of God. Sometimes, I literally hate some of them with every fiber of my being. But eventually, in the end, I can’t escape the fact that, like family, we belong to each other and we belong to Him who watches over us, and loves us so much.
I don’t think I realized just how much until days before I turn 40.
Maybe that’s the best gift I could ask for, and receive.
... just close your eyes and feel the breeze there’s sweetness in the air, for you’re living in a world of ageless time without a worry or a care, for you’re a child, with a loving smile and eyes that shine far brighter than the stars up above, you’re a child, with a heart so pure, and open arms, embracing the whole world with love, if men could only break his pride and see the things a child could see, perhaps then in time men could become the spirit he was meant to be, a little child ... be a child.
(“Window Of A Child,” Seawind)
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