No matter how old I get, I always look forward to my birthday. I love celebrating, being celebrated, connecting with friends and family, and I love presents. It helps that my birthday is in the spring when the first daffodils, crocuses, hyacinths, and tulips break ground and bloom. This year, my eager anticipation felt muted by current events and thoughts of the hardships many people are going through.
The night before my birthday, at the end of a conference call, my colleague Joshua Home Edwards announced my birthday. It felt good to be recognized. Knowing that this year might feel quiet birthday-wise, I found myself requesting the Happy Birthday song. It felt a bit bold and even embarrassing to be asking for this gift but as soon as everyone began singing I felt loved and appreciated and good, in a warm-inside way. Glad I asked.
This birthday felt different, of course. I had hoped for a beautiful sunny day and a family hike. Befitting of the times, perhaps, I awoke to dark skies, strong winds and a chill in the air.
A Time for Reflection
My day pretty much began with an opportunity to face my shortcomings as a wife and mother, due to the fallout of a childish outburst from dinner the previous evening. Things could have gone badly but, thankfully, after some tears, my husband and I discussed the experience, listened to each other, heard each other and were able to repair.
A rare walk with my 13-year-old son helped me overcome the weather induced glumness. The burst of yellow forsythia, colorful spring bulbs and bright purple azaleas brought back a sense of possibility and a feeling of well-being. Halfway around the neighborhood loop, the clouds parted and blue sky and partial sun shone through.
At this point in our walk I recalled my first happy birthday call of the day with my mother-in-law Mimi, sequestered in Florida with an artist friend. When I described the weather and the prediction for overcast and rain Mimi invited me to pray with her for beautiful weather. I felt irritated by her Pollyanna outlook. She wasn’t here looking at the gloom, and I felt compelled to underscore the unpromising predictions of The Weather Channel.
“Well, if you’re happy with that, we don’t need to pray.”
When she put it that way I felt a bit defensive, but really what did I have to lose?
“No, go ahead. Let’s pray.” I still didn’t quite believe the weather would change.
Walking with my son, those precious minutes of blue sky and sun reminded me that, when we open to possibility, things can change in an instant; when we close ourselves off, miracles become less likely. or at least we’re less likely to be outside to witness that moment the sun shines through.
As most of my days have been, this one was fairly low-key, due partly to isolating and partly to a torn rotator cuff. Late in the morning, as the rain began outside, I read a beautiful novel while my husband worked, my thirteen-year-old did homework and edited a YouTube video for his gaming channel and my college student slept in.
After a quiet morning and afternoon I heard a car honk outside. I opened the door to see my sister-in-law, brother-in-law, two of their adult kids and one girlfriend jump out of their car simultaneously and burst into the Happy Birthday song. They kept their social distance, which filled me with both longing for what couldn’t be (more time spent together) and gratitude for the largess in this simple gift of their presence.
After family dinner, we turned to celebrating game night. In my dream family, we play games every night. In reality, this is a rare occurrence. So it was truly heaven to play multiple rounds of Charades while my mother-in-law participated through FaceTime.
We followed up with the boys’ favorite—poker—after which the group indulged me with Apples to Apples. My usual competitive spirit was tempered by love and kindness. I enjoyed losing while my oldest cleaned up in both poker and Apples. A few days later, I saw an email that my colleague, Joshua, had donated in my honor to SEVA.org to give one person the gift of sight (through medical treatment). WOW!
Celebrating Many Gifts
The day’s non-material gifts proved so much more fulfilling than any physical item: the appearance of the sun, the surprise singing, celebrating together, the old fashioned family games and the gift in my honor. The gifts of the time also include less comfortable gifts–opportunities to see our behaviors and grow or change.
It seems that those of us with the luxury of not being on the front lines of this pandemic are gifted with the time to slow down and revisit how we experience the world. We are offered the opportunity to get creative with how we celebrate and connect. Many of us are seeing how some of our ways of coping are unproductive and we get to change how we react to a world in which the illusion of control has disappeared. Or old ways don’t work. We must change.
I believe, as many people do, that our modern lifestyle was luxurious but unsustainable. We now face a reckoning. For those of us not on the front lines (as opposed to the brave folks working overtime to help and heal the sick or make sure we have food during this crisis) we are invited to slow down, to do less and be more. As our worlds become physically smaller, we see what is essential and what is excess. We get to experience the great gifts that occur when we slow down, appreciate each other in new ways, and create new ways of being in the world.
What insights have you experienced during this pandemic experience?