Me and time, we have an uneasy truce. Since it insists on passing, I insist on tracking it. Anniversaries, ends and beginnings of months, new moons, solstices, equinoxes, half-birthdays, even the very passage of the day‘s hours, I am tuned in to frequencies both natural and arbitrary.
To give an example: 24 hours ago I wandered the French Quarter, sipping an iced coffee and Kahlua, cozy beneath a bright white scarf and furry boots in the meager wintry sunlight. One week ago I introduced my boyfriend to the women of my family as they chopped, rolled, grated, dipped, and simmered the Christmas delights we feasted on for the next three days. Two seasons ago I swam in the Mediterranean off the coast of Turkey as the sun sunk low. A year ago I bought champagne and raspberries for my 30th birthday party. I ate a savory brunch and pondered what it actually meant---what I should feel---why it felt so essential to feel---that it was my last day of being 29, my last day as a 20-something year-old.
So here I am again. Only get this: this year, my last day of being 30 is the 30th. Tomorrow, my 31st birthday is the 31st of December. This will happen but once in my lifetime. There's more: tomorrow night is the first full winter moon (and a blue one at that!) How can I possibly honor/record/appreciate/celebrate this unthinkably profound day?! How can I relish the fun without imbuing it with such meaning that all meaning slips from my desperate fist?
Around puberty my birthday started to feel burdensome, a too-warm blanket, a too-full stomach. Why did I have to be born on the last day of the year? Why did I have to share my birthday with THE most significant time-tracking holiday? Just six days after Jesus, fellow Capricorn, I bear the cross of order: my age perfectly aligned with the new year. It's not just 2010, it's the year of being 31, no longer in contact with the 20s, no longer a newbie to this decade of the 30s. Here is where Fear flaps down from her perch and insinuates: What are you doing with this one precious life?
Typically I've answered her by imposing the utmost order on the day itself, minutely mapped out, time tables strictly adhered to. Anticipation and anxiety double-team me. Except this planning denies my essence: I thrive on spontaneity; I find inspiration in the unknown spaces (the silent pauses)that life has yet to fill in. Too often my birthday is so hyped with expectations of PERFECTION that inevitably it winds up being just another sweet day: never special enough, never long enough, sunny enough, cool enough, active enough, contemplative enough, loved enough.
How can it be anything when it has to be everything?
Time gives me a piggyback and I remember: puberty ushered in more than braces and perms. It was when I first became aware of my obsessions and compulsions. Mailing letters was a minefield loaded with potential mistakes. Wearing perfume too risky---it might wear off. My room so sacrosanct that not even friends were allowed in---who knew what they might do while I was in the bathroom? Order became my saving grace, a cushion floating me above a sea fraught with mistakes, incongruities, sabotages. Curse the messy waves that spilled into my lap! I had to navigate to shore; I had to save myself somehow.
This year I've already received a blessed birthday present. On Christmas evening, sated and slow, Mom went digging into the VHS archeology and unearthed a long forgotten tape. There I was, in eighth grade, 13 years old. Me plus three best friends equals Silly. We sang Christian pop songs, we danced, we bashfully (except for me) revealed our crushes to the camera. We laughed constantly and hard. We poked sugary fun at each other, savoring our wit and embarrassment, our clever spoofs, our effortless goofs.
Mom watched with rapt attention, her face pure joy. At first I cringed at my blemished face and shiny metal smile and thick Louisiana accent (still lurking, I now gladly realize). I scrutinized my body: were my legs thin enough to pull off those short basketball shorts? Why did I wear such baggy T-shirts? But as the tape rolled on, from backyard trampoline to Kart Ranch to Jeannine's room, I let go my fear that I would say something to incriminate my pubescent self.
And I noticed happiness. Innocent happiness. I saw a 13 year old who loved her life and her friends, who felt at home in her (always moving) body, who wasn't cowered by adults, who relished each opportunity to laugh. I heard a 13 year old confident in her voice as she exclaimed: I am a Louisianan and proud of it! I saw a girl living every moment, not striving for anything, least of all perfection.
Now, on the eve of my 31st birthday, may I surrender to life as faithfully as she did. May I continue to know how perfect she already was.