It was my birthday on Monday. 40 years, the mind simply boggles.
I’m excited, to tell you the truth. There was a time in my life when surviving to reach 25 seemed well outside the realm of possibility, so this is a pretty big deal to me.
I’m not freaked out, but I am philosophical. I’ve been thinking about birthdays, and about birthday gifts. There have certainly been some doozies.
On my 11th birthday (Mom, is that right?) I was given the gift of a gorgeous bay American Saddlebred 3-gaited show horse. His name was Mod World, and he was a handful. We understood each other, Mod and I, and we had a great season that year, including the day we won an Open Park Saddle class over the top of some truly talented competition. I didn’t stop smiling for a week.
There were other extravagant gifts: another horse, a car, an opal and diamond ring from my husband, which made me cry.
It seems to me, though, that some of the best gifts didn’t come on my birthday, but were given at any time, simply for the joy of it.
A ticket to the ballet to celebrate a good report card.
The road trip to Missouri to visit my brother and his family.
A love (OK, obsession) of reading.
Those poor patient young women who tried to teach me to knit.
All the random smiles of strangers, the people who gave up their bus seats to me when I was on crutches, the way one of my nephews leapt up into my arms, serene in the knowledge that I’d catch him.
All wonderful gifts.
I heard Joseph Campbell tell a story once, about a young boy who wanted to give a birthday gift to his teacher. He left his village and walked to the sea, which was several days away. When he got to the beach, he sat and watched the tides and the birds for a day, watched the sun rise and set and listened to the wind and the waves. Then he picked up a pretty shell from the beach and walked home.
He went to his teacher and gave her the shell. She took it from him, thanked him, and asked, “You walked all the way to the sea to get me this shell?”
“Oh no,” he said, “the shell isn’t the gift. The journey is the gift.”
I think that story is making more sense to me now. This is my gift, this life of mine, these friends I have, this family which loves me. This is my journey.
To all the people who have shared it with me, I thank you most humbly. Shall we see what the next 40 years brings us?