Some Work of Noble Note May Yet Be Done
Back in college in the midwest in the seventies, I found work as a school bus driver. It’s good part-time work for a student. I got my special license after my special interview and special driving test and was allowed by the state of Illinois to transport students.
The policy of the bus company I worked for was that, on employees’ birthdays, they were responsible for bringing a treat for everyone else, turning the gift idea on its head. You’d bring donuts or cake or whatever else suited you. That way everyone got lots of special food all year, while the birthday celebrants were front and center on their day, as the givers.
I am mindful of said policy today, since tomorrow is this writer’s birthday, my sixty seventh, quite a few decades removed from those bus driving days. I was thinking that, in lieu of the pastry, I get to give this blog as a gift, with the hope that someone reading it will have a better day somehow. My friend heard this several years ago and said “Nice try, but I still want the doughnuts.”
Well, I can’t do that, other than virtually with the photo, but I can own the day publicly and offer a reflection. It is no small thing to be popped out, to be birthed, and to have no instruction manual handed to you. As Rumi put it —
At birth, you were cut from your bed,
Crying and grasping in separation.
Everyone listens, knowing your song.
You yearn for others who know your name,
And the words to your lament
I have had some memorable birthdays. In May 1986 I wrote in another journal “At 14,300′ (on Denali) they all sang Happy Birthday to me and R had a snow block with a lighter in it to serve as an ersatz cake. The crevasses are menacing as we stare into the black depths. We count our steps and we sound like gulls as our ice axes squawk in the still air and the crampon extenders leave tracks that evoke fossilized vertebrae. All in all, a memorable birthday, the highest and coldest yet.”
Last year we were in Sweden, another unforgettable one, the first ever in Europe and the first in a long while with any of my kids. There was turning twenty one and at last able to drink legally. There was turning thirty and being depressed because I wondered where my life had gone. There were the first ones after the two different near-death experiences of both my son and me. Now, this year, unforgettable in its own way, as millions of us are finding out.
Memorable superlatives notwithstanding, I do like to think every birthday is special. Over the years, stuff does happen like parents dying and getting prostate cancer or having your hearing diminish or having your bladder not work quite so well or not being able to read labels without your glasses or being more careful of falling or having more stains on your underwear. But it’s a chance to celebrate life, another year of living.
“Tho’ much is taken, much abides;” wrote Tennyson, “and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are”
Yet it’s true, he went on, that,
“Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.”
Happy Birthday to all my fellow celebrants tomorrow and Happy Unbirthday to everyone else.