Today is my birthday. I’m 32.
In general, the years are speeding up as I age, yet this one has felt long. I can’t remember my birthday from last year very well, other than I spent it away from my mother who was in Houston, and was feeling the special flavor of unease you feel when separated from a sick loved-one. So very much has changed since then.
I have struggled with grief and despair this week, but this birthday seems particularly blessed. I have been touched by unusually thoughtful gifts and expressions of love.
- my coworkers pulled together money to purchase a piece of art that was for sale at the Cancer Center, simply because they noticed I would look at it every day and smile
- a woman I deeply enjoy but have never had the opportunity to know well gave me an exotic plant crowned with beautiful pink flowers. Her husband nurtured this plant from seed for years in his greenhouse.
- a woman I discharged to hospice months ago, fully expecting her to pass away soon, walked into the Cancer Center and gave me a huge hug, some small gifts, and a card covered with butterflies.
- and more…
I have often felt awkward on my birthday- uncomfortable with the attention and the unilateral gift-giving. This year I feel profound loss, yet an even greater gratitude for what I do have. Every card, gift, text message and embrace has been meaningful and beautiful. I am part of a huge network of love, with lacy fingers that envelop the globe. No, I don’t deserve it, but in life we get both less and more than we deserve. I’m 32, and way overdue to learn to accept a love that makes me shudder with its magnitude.
My friend told me “Its your butterfly birthday!” And she is right. Grief is transformative. Our losses can bring us to the brink of madness, and at the same time blast apart our shell, open our hearts, let the light in. Grief rolls in like a 10 armed Hindu goddess that can destroy the universe with a flick of a wrist and maniacal smile, yet if you don’t go down in the fiery blaze she’ll also take away that which limits you.
I wish we could keep our loved ones by our side forever, but the universe is built on death and destruction. Still, flowers bloom in the ashes, babies are birthed in pain and blood, the worm is torn apart to become a winged thing of beauty. This is the mysterious, wonderful, terrible, and awesome way of the world.