Today is my birthday...

Today is my birthday - 59 - which sits pretty well with me.  My 40s were tough - seems I hated each birthday more than the other as they pushed me towards 50 - and I was grouchy and out of sorts and worse.  I hurt those I loved - and sometimes didn't care.  But my 50s have been very different - more gentle - a little less anxious and a whole lot more grace-filled. I know that for most of my life I inwardly identified with the outsider, contrarian misfit - something like young Springsteen singing, "Growin' Up"- the puer aeternus on rock and roll.

But that started to run out of steam at some point, yes?  Who wants a 50 year old white guy carrying on like some blissed-out, smart-assed hipster? I was starting to bore myself...  so for a time I was inwardly unmoored. Floating. Something I hated for a while until I discovered that I liked to wander. I found more joy just by showing up than having to be the host of everything. What's more, there was a whole lot more wonder and hope in listening to others than all the shouting and carping I was used to doing. Growin' up, indeed.
Two Robert Bly poems give some shape and form to this change.  We went to his reading once at the Tucson Poetry Festival and, as fate would have it, he sat next to me.  What a trip!  So I introduced myself and we chatted about church and poetry and growing up - he sent me a note about a month later that I still cherish - and then he got up to read.  Two hours later - literally - he asked the crowd if he should wrap it up and everyone moan OMG NO.  Time had vanished - or at least stood still - so he smiled quietly and read for another 45 minutes.

Both poems come from his book, Morning Poems:

It's morning. The brown scoops of coffee, the
Coffee grinder, the neighbors still asleep.
The gray light as you pour gleaming water -
It seems you've travelled years to get here.

Finally you deserve a house. If not deserve
It, have it; no one can get you out. Misery
Had its way, poverty, no money at least;
Or maybe it was confusion. But that's over.

Now you have a room. Those light-hearted books:
The Anatomy of Melancholy, Kafka's Letter
To His Father, are all here. You can dance
With only one leg, and see the snowflake falling

With only one eye. Even the blind man
Can see. That's what they say. If you had
A sad childhood, so what? When Robert Burton
Said he was melancholy, he meant he was home.

I get that - now.  Dancing with one leg seeing the snow with one eye - living more fully with a broken heart.  And I laugh out loud when he says, "Those light-hearted books..." Once, about a 100 years ago, Dianne asked me, "Don't you know any happy songs?"  Apparently I didn't at the time and used music to help me find out what I was really feeling - and it was anything but joy.  Now, most of the time, even with one leg I can dance.

I like this poem, too:  "Things to Think."

Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door, think that he's
To give you something large: tell you you're
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time, or that
 Been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

That's almost perfect, I think:  forgiven... it's not necessary to work all the time... it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.  Still brings tears to my eyes.  Di and I sat this morning sipping tea on the deck taking in the late morning sun.  We practiced a song, too - our version of Eva Cassidy's "Songbird" - as two of our friends are getting married this afternoon.  I am blessed to do the ceremony for Brian and Robyn.  Brian plays in our church band, "Between the Banks," and is a beautiful musical partner and Robyn is a gentle and quiet healer.

What a tender birthday gift - being the celebrant at their wedding - and then tomorrow (actually later tonight) our children will gather here to join us for some birthday stuff tomorrow after worship.  Maybe a baseball game if the rains hold up, certainly some feasting and lots of laughter.  This is a much better way to embrace a birthday than all the agitation and addictions I used to hold so close.  The poet, John O'Donohue, brings it all home.
Blessed be the mind that dreamed the day
The blueprint of your life
Would begin to glow on earth,
Illuminating all the faces and voices
That would arrive to invite
Your soul to growth.

Praised be your father and mother,
Who loved you before you were,
And trusted to call you here
With no idea who you would be.

Blessed be those who have loved you
Into becoming who you were meant to be,
Blessed be those who have crossed your life
With dark gifts of hurt and loss
That have helped to school your mind
In the art of disappointment.

When desolation surrounded you,
Blessed be those who looked for you
And found you, their kind hands
Urgent to open a blue window
In the gray wall formed around you.

Blessed be the gifts you never notice,
Your health, eyes to behold the world,
Thoughts to countenance the unknown,
Memory to harvest vanished days,
Your heart to feel the world's waves,
Your breath to breathe the nourishment
Of distance made intimate by earth.

On this echoing-day of your birth,
May you open the gift of solitude
In order to receive your soul;
Enter the generosity of silence
To hear your hidden heart;
Know the serenity of stillness
To be enfolded anew
By the miracle of your being.

Sounds like a plan, yes?


Black Pete said…
All birthdays ought to be an occasion for reflection--may all birthdays be an occasion for grateful and peaceable reflection, as yours is, James.

Many happy returns.
RJ said…
Thanks, brother.
Philomena Ewing said…
Belated happy birthday wishes RJ!!
I love your honesty here and I was very moved by the way you have charted your course ! I can relate to a lot of it.

On a separate note July always seems packed full of birthdays compared to other months- I'm in there too as is my partner,many friends and other family members- we are summer babes !!
Have a good one.

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