The less I want to sound sanctimonious, the more sanctimonious my life becomes.
I’m 36 today. This morning, as is my tradition, I took my dog for a walk, alone, in the place I woke up. This year happens to be Flagstaff, AZ, tucked in a juxtaposition of two busy roads– one Route 66– and fragrant pines. I fought off my usual approach to birthdays, which is to guard it rigidly and have a perfect plan. Instead, I signed us up for a morning yoga class and cried in it for the last 15 minutes. I didn’t try and figure out why I was crying. The source could be anywhere from gratitude to my mother calling me for the first time in years on my birthday morning to the release of a stressful couple of weeks. Instead, I tried to enjoy it. I don’t cry as much as I used to, and I frankly miss the feeling of erratic catharsis.
Then, I walked with my Someone to a teahouse and slurped two pots of Milk Oolong alongside a blueberry muffin. I splurged on multiple readings from the Tao instead of the usual single daily allotment. We bought two kinds of tea to go, walked to an independent bookstore and purchased two books from one of my favorite authors. Then, we got to-go from a vegan curry place, came back to our camper, and ate with the smell of pine on our nostrils and the spice of chili on our tongues.
That is to say, I am having the perfect day.
It’s not because I planned it. It’s not because I laid down a cacophony of hints to my Someone leading up– a sordid map of how to make me happy.
I think it may be because I have stopped desperately grabbing at my life. I’ve stopped hovering over my small plate of time on Earth and have instead leaned back in my chair, examined it, smelled it, and am taking one bite at a time. Or, at least I’ve succeeded in doing so for this one day.
My Someone seems a little confused about it. Previous birthdays have been wrought with disappointment. Plans go bad, or expectations aren’t met. Or what I thought I wanted didn’t leave me feeling like I had “done” birthday right. It was a wild, flailing check list of what-I-should-want-and-should-do within a person who wasn’t really sure those things were what she wanted. By the end of the day, I’d concede that it was “Fine, really! I had a nice time,” in a voice that indicated that next year would be better. A real martyr’s move.
This year, he’s off the hook because I let myself off the hook. I know what I want. And what I want is to be quiet most of the day. What I want is to cry in yoga class and slurp tea and maybe sketch or just breathe all afternoon. And the reason this:
My birthday, this celebration of the day I arrived, is not anyone else’s responsibility. This is not a lesson in controlling my own narrative, or making the life I want to live. It’s about no longer trying to control everyone else’s narrative as it pertains to me. Including my own. It is not a day where I wait for others to appreciate me. It is a day where I appreciate being here. I got another helping on my plate, and I get to sit quietly and eat it at a table with others who have also been given a plate at the same time table as me. That is far from a disappointment. My expectations have already been exceeded. And I am no longer ravenous for it– I’ve already been given so much. But more is always appreciated.
Now. If only I could extend this birthday wish to the rest of my days.
I will start that practice tomorrow.