In my 20s I received no less than 40 birthday cards. At the time I knew people from different walks of life and in various parts of the world. However, these were not people I necessarily spoke to often. Perhaps we wrote letters to each other, but I rarely talked to half the people who, for whatever reason, remembered me on my birthday. In my 30s, a handful of people were crossed out of my little black book, and I probably received about 30 or so cards. By my 40th birthday the cards were down to about 20, and half of those I’d received after my birthday. Some of the cards were from family, some from close friends, and others miscellaneous people I’d stay in touch with primarily through e-mails. On my 55th birthday I received 8 cards. I was taken aback at how few cards I’d received that year, and it became a stunning realization that people were slipping out of my life, and the aging process had turned a corner. This year, as I am blessed to celebrate 59 years, I have received 2 cards on my birthday; an e-mail from my tax preparer and optometrist, which I receive every year; an e-card from a friend back East; a greeting from my bank when I went to the ATM; and one text from a friend in Washington State (who stated that my card “is in the mail.”).
When I spoke with a friend a few weeks ago, she asked me what were my plans for my birthday. I told her I had no plans. She gasped, and followed by “Seriously!?” It was a theme of mine for many years: never to celebrate my birthday in the same city in which I resided. And I had to take that day off, no matter what! Three years ago that changed. On my 56th birthday I went to Vancouver, BC. I love Vancouver. At the time I was living in Seattle, and a little over two hours by car separates these two stunning Pacific Northwest cities, not including the waiting time at Customs. I opted not to drive and decided to take BoltBus. I knew someone who lived there but was unable to get in touch with her because both her e-mail and her cell phone were outdated contacts. When I called her, the number now belonged to someone else, and when I e-mailed her my plans the message bounced back. I knew where she lived and decided to do my usual: play it by ear. I hadn’t seen her in years! When last I saw her in Vancouver, she invited me up to a concert she was having at her townhouse. A concert harpist, she had friends from different parts of the world to come to a private concert in which she would play. It was awesome! It was a snowflake experience.
My plans went so awry. I was stuck in Customs because I failed to realize that California does not have the EDL (enhanced driver license), which is acceptable documentation to enter Canada from the U.S. They must have inspected my driver license with every scanner device in the building trying to find that embedded chip! Even if I had it with me, I couldn’t use my passport because it was expired. So for 45 minutes I held up BoltBus and the people on the bus gave me dirty looks when finally I was allowed through Customs and took my seat on the bus. You know the saying: If looks could kill . . . By the time the bus pulled into downtown Vancouver, I was in a different mind-set.
I managed to get to my friend’s neighborhood without much fuss, and it looked smaller to me than when last I saw it. The trees lining the wide street were still voluminous and vivid green, but the building she lived in looked less glamorous than I remember; although the neighborhood still claimed its gold star status–it’s not a cheap part of Vancouver, and her view of the Vancouver skyline is breathtaking. I learned that my friend was on tour and would not be back in North America for six weeks. I left the doorman my contact information and I did hear from my friend two months later.
That was the last time I chose to spend my birthday outside the city in which I lived. I learned that day–although it took a few years for it to take root in my mind–that it was no longer something I enjoyed, or even wanted to do. As I look back over the past 365 days, my life has been a bittersweet blessing. My big sister passed away in 2013 at the age of 58, and she was two months shy of turning 59. When we reached our 50s, we’d exhale for having made it to yet another birthday because our mother died young–in her early 50s. We genuinely believed that we were cursed. So while my life is extremely out of balance and seriously helter skelter right now, I embrace this 59th birthday and choose to celebrate life itself and not the date of my birth. The number of birthday cards I receive seems frivolous within the deeper framework of my life. Even while it’s a lovely feeling to know that there are people out there who take the time and effort to send me a card, and it feels good to know I am in their thoughts, turning 59 today is an auspicious reminder of the elusive and fleeting nature of fate.