I turned 50.
I woke up and it was February 15 and I was another year older and into a new decade of living.
It was weird.
I’ve always loved my birthday, always enjoyed making a big deal out of it.
It’s the celebration of being alive, after all, a second, personal, New Year’s Day.
I don’t always have parties on my birthday, but sometimes I do, and my parents always have birthday dinners or lunches for their birthday people.
When I have a birthday lunch or dinner out, the environment is of the utmost importance.
I want either super elegant or funky decor, candles on the table, or a bohemian feel - but there has to be a feel.
Sometimes I think restaurant environment is even more important to me than the food.
I can still recall the fabulous atmosphere of Cucina di Pesce, where I had dinner the night I blew out the candles below.
I’d only lived in New York for three months, and had just moved out of a residential hotel, into an apartment in the West Village, when my new roommates took me out to dinner and bought this cake.
Let’s all take a moment, shall we, to gaze upon my young, young skin.
On my 25th, living in Brooklyn, my mom sent me a cake in the mail.
The year I moved back to Kentucky, I threw a party and a bunch of people came to my little house on Park Avenue, including Tracy, who arrived very late because he had been printing photographs for a show. That night was the very beginning of our dating lives.
One year, we went to Nashville for a Rick Springfield show.
For my 40th, I threw a prom. I had a regrettable hair cut and there was an ice storm, but people still came and danced.
Last year, Tracy and I went out to lunch, where I had a fancy pink cocktail. It was super low key, which was fine, because it was my 49th and I was saving up for this year.
But as my birthday this year drew closer I realized that trying to plan my 50th was causing me stress. Ideas for how to celebrate it abounded, but not one of them sounded good to me. I couldn’t even think of a place where I’d like to have dinner.
The only thing that sounded remotely appealing to me was a walk in the woods, but mid-February in Kentucky tends to be cold and icy…or muddy from the last round of cold rain.
Maybe you are thinking to yourself, making a big deal out of your birthday is something children do. Perhaps at 50, you’ve finally matured out of that…
But nope. That wasn’t it, and will never be it.
I wondered if I was experiencing birthday anxiety, if maybe turning 50 was bothering me on a deep level.
I remembered the year I turned 27 and how painful it was because 30 was looming so close and that marker completely freaked me out. Also, I was just miserable in all ways and 27 was bad. (Saturn return.)
Was I experiencing a similar stress about the threshold of 50?
I examined myself.
When I hear other people my age talk about how aging sucks or refer to themselves as old, I can’t relate to it at all.
I feel better physically than I ever have.
It’s true I have more wrinkles and other such things, but the older I get, the more alive my spirit becomes, the more I am myself.
I don’t feel that the best of my life is behind me.
I know the best of my life is ahead of me, and I’m excited to leap into it.
Of course, I do feel sad about the passing of time, but that is always the case. I’m a bittersweet person. Joy and sorrow are always going on simultaneously inside of me.
I looked it up and 50 also has an astrological marker - Chiron return - but I wasn’t sure how or if I was feeling that.
I decided that instead of trying to plan some big whoopdidoo perfect 50th birthday celebration, I would just let it be and let it unfold.
As it turns out, I spent that long weekend in mid-January with two best friends. (I know I’ve already told you about it several times.)
We had a spiritually full, nourishing, and illuminating time together, and even though this event was not a celebration of my birthday, it was significant and helped re-orient my inner compass and prepare for the next steps on my path.
And I did receive presents on that trip - Little Wing Hollow t-shirts, a super cool notebook with a Rumi quote on the front, a lapis pendant, a scolecite palm stone, an aragonite cluster, the most beautiful madonna and child star tree topper.
During Sunday morning worship at my church, there’s a responsive prayer said for those of us celebrating a birthday or anniversary that week, then we follow the priest up to the altar, where we each receive a blessing.
I’d never been to a church that did this prior to coming to GS, but it’s become a ritual I look forward to and love.
I also enjoy seeing who shares a birthday week with me, and I engage in seemingly unchurch-like thoughts such as, “We’re both sun in Aquarius…how interesting.”
My birthday fell on a Friday.
That morning, I brewed birthday cake flavored coffee. It was delicious. I made myself some BLE compliant pancakes and blew out my candle.
My day included visits to a couple of my favorite shops, including the place where I find most of my Mary stuff. Things I regret not buying include a set of nun salt and pepper shakers and a Buddha incense burner.
I enjoyed a delicious dinner with Tracy at a new restaurant in our neighborhood.
The next day, I went to a yoga and Reiki workshop at Wildfire. It was amazingly restorative and restful.
About ten days before my birthday, my mom texted me and said she wanted to plan something.
I told her I was planning on just letting the thing slide by, but she wasn’t having it.
We decided on a trip to Gatlinburg. I didn’t want to travel on my actual birthday, so we booked a trip for the weekend after.
As it turns out, my former rector, who is now a bishop, was visiting Trinity Episcopal in Gatlinburg that same weekend. (I love synchronicity!)
Gatlinburg can be a weird place, I know, but it is a place with meaning to our family.
My grandparents loved to go to Gatlinburg. They took my mom there when she was growing up. They took me and my brother there when we were growing up. It’s a significant place in Tracy’s growing up as well.
As our trip grew closer, we knew the weather forecast was wet.
We didn’t expect it to be quite as wet as it was.
There was so much rain on Friday night and Saturday, there was widespread flooding and a few road closures and the Bishop’s visit couldn’t happen.
On Sunday morning, I woke up with a mysterious illness. Chills. Sore throat. Pressure in my ears.
I pressed on.
That’s not my usual way.
I am the sort of person who takes to the bed when I am sick, but this was our day in the Smokies and the sun was out, so I took some Tylenol and pretended like I felt okay.
We did some shopping and drove through the park
and ate at our favorite restaurant, where there are crystals in the trees and a sweet woman with the most unusual and beautiful voice plays keyboard and sings sad 70s songs.
By the time we got back to the room on Sunday night, I felt legitimately sick and fell into a sleep during most of the Oscars.
If I were a person who looked for meaning in everything, which I am, I would wonder why this trip turned out this way, with felled synchronicity and rain and illness.
Maybe the reason can be found in the fact that despite these things, we had a good time. There was beauty and laughter.
When I remember that weekend, I won’t remember feeling poorly, I’ll remember the love.
My eyes drifted across this on the internet yesterday: All things are working in my favor, even if it seems the opposite.
We could argue forever about whether or not that’s true, and perhaps it is not. Maybe it’s just magical thinking, but it does feel good to think it.
It feels like release.
Where I Stand
I can’t tell you exactly why I believe it, but I believe I will most likely die when I am meant to die, and while there is some wiggle room there because of free will, like maybe there will be an accident or an illness that changes the chart of things, I pretty much feel like, just like my birth date, I have very little control, if any, over my death date.
I do not mean that people who die as children or die painfully were meant to do so. If you have lost a loved one, I am not in any way saying to you that it happened for a reason.
So what I believe here is a bit of a paradox, but I do find peace in what my great aunt used to say, When your number’s up, it’s up.
Our rector recently said something along the lines of, God is pouring us, our lives, into our bodies, that if God stopped pouring us in, we would disappear.
I find that mystifyingly beautiful and comforting.
This whole life thing being of God and belonging to God.
I love that.
My 94 year old grandmother recently lamented that she’d left her harmonica at a party because she’d put it on a shelf to dance.
She plans to keep on living for a while.
And so do I.
I plan to live to 100. I think it would be a good thing to live to that nice triple digit number then, poof, disappear. I’ve thought that for a while - that I would live to be 100. I could, of course, be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I will see my 100th birthday, which makes me at the halfway point of my life right now.
You may wonder why I am talking about death right now.
Well, one of the reasons I felt weird about my birthday this year was all that over the hill crap people like to pull out.
I’m still climbing the hill, I haven’t even made it to the top of the hill, although I do have to say, I’ve made it to a really nice vista, one where I can look out and take in the beauty of it all.
One where I stand solidly in who I am as my own authority.
And one where, by grace, I have finally let go of a lot of old wounding and shame and fear that I’ve been lugging up this hill for a long time.
Maybe you think birthdays are energetically meaningless, just another day, but I can tell you that I have experienced a shift.
I do feel different here, where I stand.
I walked through a gateway
I think maybe that Chiron return thing pressed on me a little harder than I realized.
I have, in recent months, felt pretty vulnerable emotionally.
I have spent some time in front of the mirror trying to reconcile what I was seeing there.
I miss my young skin.
I miss that sensation of knowing my whole life is stretching out in front of me and I can make all sorts of decisions with room for correction.
But I do not miss being young.
I don’t miss feeling self-conscious or worrying about other people’s judgements and perceptions.
I like who I am now.
I like that I know myself and that I know how to say yes and no to the things I want and don’t want.
I never enjoyed the drunken parties of youth or the immense pressure to conform or the societal expectations that made no sense to my soul.
My soul feels free.
I feel free to be myself, and while a sense of belonging is probably something I will always wish to cultivate a little more of in my life, unbelonging is okay with me too.
I trust my path.
I trust my intuition.
I trust that all of it, this whole life thing, is going the way it’s meant to and I’m learning, gradually learning, to let go my grip and lean back into the divine and let it all be.
If you’d asked my young self where I would be at 50, she would have told you a lot of things that simply haven’t happened.
Where I thought I would be at this point in my life and where I am are very, very different places.
30 year old me would have been devastated to know that 50 year old me doesn’t have children, hasn’t published a book, still struggles with money, is only just now getting a handle on the whole food thing.
But there are other things about my life that younger me would be really happy about.
My relationship with Tracy, my friendships, the fact that I’m painting again, my spiritual life, the pugs, my nieces.
This is how life is.
You can’t really plan it out or make predictions.
Life is a one day at a time venture and there’s no way to live it without missteps.
Are we here because our souls are learning something? Are we here on some cosmic mission we don’t quite understand?
Maybe we’re here so that God can experience God’s creation.
Maybe the message of life is: Everything’s okay.
Maybe, just maybe, we are built for love and that is all.