Sep 29, 2017

Today is my birthday. (3)

Falling at the end of September as it does, my birthday has always been a time of new beginnings. In the past it meant the excitement of a new school year, the warm days and cool nights that herald the return of autumn and the necessity of socks, another candle on the cake.

Now it means I'm probably on the wrong side of halfway to death, assuming I reach the Canadian average of 82.14 years for a woman. (We no longer bother adding another candle to the cake. Who can blow out a conflagration?)

That's a scary thought, to be more than halfway to death. But then I think back on all the things I have been and done and seen in my 44 years thus far, and I think of all the things I have yet to be and do and see, and death, that rascally spectre, doesn't seem so scary. (44 years is simultaneously forever and no time at all.)

I have been a virgin and a lover. I have been a liar and a teller of truth. A thief and a criminal. A daughter and granddaughter and niece and sister and aunt. A student and teacher. A flirt and a fool. A rebel. A loser. A friend. 

I have created art in writing, in photographs, in paint, in podcasts, in plays, and in film (despite being a terrible actress). I have done drugs and been drunk. I have driven down dark highways alone with the radio turned up and the fog whispering of murderers. I have counted down and kissed my love at midnight for over a quarter of a century.  

I have seen the mountains of British Columbia, the hoodoos of Alberta, the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the lakes of northern Ontario, and the lighthouse on the rocks at Peggy's Cove. 

I have gambled in Vegas, hiked the Grand Canyon, sat on a cracked vinyl stool and listened to an old man sing the blues in Chicago, walked the Freedom Trail in Boston (twice), had my car broken into in Detroit, and fallen in love with New York City.

I have seen movies that have amazed and moved me, and I have been amazed and moved by Koons' hearts, Pollock's splatter, Rodin's sculptures, Caravaggio's violence, Rothko's colours, Calder's mobiles, Picasso's bulls, Dali's nightmares, Warhol's irreverence, Magritte's juxtapositions, Lichtenstein's dots, Weiwei's ashes, Banksy's politics, and Bourgeois' mother, along with thousands of other lesser known artists whose pieces have spoken to me from the walls and spaces they inhabit. 

I have made friends around the world thanks to technology even though I hate technology. I have killed spiders and rescued beetles, because those two extra legs make all the difference. I have thrown parties and thrown up.   

I have read books. I have read books. I have read books. 

I have had a baby monkey jump onto my head and I have run my hand over the rough fur of a wild ocelot and somehow resisted the urge to touch the baby sloths. I have listened to the ding and mew of frogs in the night and been terrified by the roar of howler monkeys. I have ridden on horseback and ziplined through the jungle and soaked in tropical hot springs. I have choked on salt water and been knocked down by waves and watched wisps of smoke rise from a volcano.

I have learned how to cook and play poker and drive a stick shift and build fences and start the lawn mower with some degree of regularity. I have worked at shitty part-time jobs and quit and been constructively dismissed and built my own business helping students with their grammar and their confidence.

I have been broke and I have had enough money that I don't need to worry about money. I have given food and loose change (and socks, once) to the homeless, and money to the needy children of the world and to those who have lost everything in disasters. I have given flowers to strangers. I have given away unused metro tickets in foreign countries, the last few dollars of a gift card to the person behind me in line, and the candy that comes with my popcorn to the first child I saw. 

I have seen The Gates of Hell and the Sistine Chapel, been awed by the Sagrada Familia, walked narrow winding worn stone steps to bell towers and looked out across European cityscapes. I have stood in the gravel square of a Nazi concentration camp that once ran with blood and wondered if the prisoners could still appreciate a gorgeous summer day among all that death. I have wandered catacombs and cobblestone streets, seen medieval castles and ancient Roman ruins, found feral cats to pet and feed, and cheered for the bull to win (he didn't).   

I have seen Madonna in concert nine times. I have gone on rock and roll road trips and stood in front of bands I love and bands I hadn't heard of. I have sung along with huge crowds in stadiums and seen shows in nearly-empty clubs. I have sung my heart out even though I can't carry a tune. I have danced (for inspiration).

I have seen corpses lying in their coffins, looking like poorly-made papier maché figures, desiccated and hollow. I have seen people I love in hospital beds, broken and wasted. (I have been in hospital beds myself.) I have watched life been there one moment and gone the next. 

I have watched beloved children grow. I have carved pumpkins and let them rot on the porch.   

I have seen eclipses and shooting stars and the Northern Lights and the rings of Saturn (through a telescope) and stood in rain storms and built snowmen and tried to find where the rainbow began and stopped to smell the roses and stood in wheat fields and understood that the earth was round. 

I have felt exhilaration, joy, compassion, rage, fear, pride, embarrassment, pity, frustration, sorrow, disappointment, longing, and love.  

And I have crunched through dried autumn leaves on my birthday and been grateful for this preposterous accident of energy and matter and consciousness that is life.