I turned 57 yesterday. It was fun. Virginia made a big deal of it. So did Facebook, longtime friends and work colleagues.
And I’m uncomfortable with it.
It’s not about the number, or the years past or the years ahead. Or what I’ve done or haven’t done.
Instead, I’m a bit unsettled by the “me-ness” and “things-ness” of my birthday.
About 50 people at work wished me a happy birthday. My boss’ boss led off a meeting with it. We had two cakes and homemade spicy pretzel bites (they were awesome!) and a charcuterie board. Today, people sound apologetic walking past me in a hallway. “Sorry, happy belated birthday.”
Virginia asked me what I wanted, asked me to provide a wish list, and I did. But my list … I looked at it and I didn’t really want anything on it.
Don’t get me wrong. I like things. I have been fortunate enough to have a lot of things I have desired over the years. I am not a closet collectivist.
And I’m not allergic to me. I like me and I like attention. I enjoy meeting others and sharing thoughts, being heard and appreciated. I have dreams and desires and intentions and wants.
But there’s this hesitancy and resistance. The best I can put it is, at 57, I am skeptical of things and me as the end goal or product.
Which makes me think to ask, What do I want?
My mom and my son Pete’s family were with us Sunday for dinner and I shared with them something from the Quaker writer Parker Palmer, pulled from his book Let Your Life Speak, which was (and remains) part of the introductory program for new members of Wellsprings Congregation.
[The Quaker teacher Douglas Steere] was fond of saying that the ancient human question ‘Who am I’ leads inevitably to the equally important question ‘Whose am I?’ — for there is no selfhood outside of relationship.
There is no selfhood outside of relationship.
Who am I is a question I feel is long settled, and it really doesn’t interest me a whole lot these days. Whose am I is far more important to me. I told the folks around that table — Virginia, my mom, Pete, Marissa, Mia (at 4, she might not have been listening) — that I am so thankful to be theirs, and I hope they know how proud I am that they are mine.
That, I guess, is where I see the mission. To leave no doubt in any of mine that they are loved and, to the largest extent possible, known. As I move deeper into my life, its mysteries and wrinkles, I want to be available — to those I am in relationship with now, and hopefully a few more along the way.
I am not finished. You’re not finished. We have a lot to figure out. A lot of joy. A lot of pain. A lot of discovery. A lot of acceptance. A lot of vinegar. A lot of grace. That’s the prayer.
On to 58.
And before we leave my birthday, here was my sweetest present, my granddaughter, Mia.