Editing The Definition Of Birthday

Pierre Fontenot Thursday, February 16, 2017 Comments Off on Editing The Definition Of Birthday
Editing The Definition Of Birthday

Years ago, seafood joint, somebody’s somebody having an 18th birthday. The person of honor, with that school stage need to be popular, needle on E from the not-being, soaking up the once a year attention in a dry sponge way, score keeping tilted not by who attended but by who didn’t, big plans for getting a tattoo after dessert…

I watched. There, at the table, but apart.  Short version: I realized that I had changed, not just how I viewed birthdays, but how I viewed my life.

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The Many Me’s Of I

I had my stages too. Awkward with other kids, being dragged from hiding by the parents to mumble greetings to their adult company, being interested in things that nobody cared about, that stage where we’re something only mother could love and father tolerate, that stage where you stick your neck out, try and fail desperately, that stage where you have a little triumph (and because it’s your first triumph it leads to…), that stage where you get the Big Head.  I remember feeling so-close to being an adult, followed by life saying beer and voting don’t make it so, followed by thinking Surely I’m there, but life saying nope, not yet, nowhere near, and don’t call me Shirley…

Through it all, from kidville to young adultville to midlifeville, birthdays have caught me on the up, or the down, or the regular regular, but the one constant is that it did not occur to me that my life was a gift.

I was alive, being alive was all I’d ever known, and it felt entirely natural. I’m not proud to confess it, but it’s true, that it did not occur to me, in a serious way, to think that my life was one eyelash of an eye blink in history.

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What Kids Sing In Church

There was nothing in my childhood that would give me any reason to think I was Special, but somehow, against all evidence, I did…  Maybe I thought my wonderfulness just needed another ten minutes in the oven, or another year or two in life, or maybe this nonsense is just chapter 3 of some Psych 101 textbook.

Not only did I feel like I was owed my life, I felt like I was here to do life a favor.  That problem was about to get fixed.

Remembering… Mom on the piano, we kids up on stage, doing the hand motions while singing about the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. I knew the words, but I didn’t live the words. It was with great surprise, to find myself the foolish man, foundation giving way when the rains came.

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Something Changed

Part of the mystery of aging is outliving our betters, our more innocents, our take-me-insteads… Me at three, at the funeral of my little brother, who would never be.

Broken bones heal, and so do hearts, hope, and spirit. I am but one, but I believe I speak for many, who if warned as children about what hard thing was ahead for them, would be terrified, but now as adults, and having had the bad thing come to pass, borne the wound, and healed up, find themselves in curious conflict, for trusting in the what-didn’t-kill-me-made-me-stronger place. What was too big is just-right smaller, reduced to essential, substantial unto spiritual, for the break was man made, but the healing is the medicine of the Maker.

Somewhere in the building-back-up I had a birthday, and something had changed. All that me, me, me stuff, was no more, no more, no more.

Instead of feeling like I needed to receive I instead felt like giving. A great saturating humility at the who-am-I made me want to be quiet, hoping for a day of invisibility, so I could putter through the day, thanking Him for all the many this’ and the many thats’ as they came to mind.

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Humility As I Cross Into Sixty

I’ve mentioned many times, and I do so again, that I was born between two babies that did not come home from the hospital. One a breech, the other I don’t know. The girl before me had a name, but those who knew it are dead and the Noun of her is forgotten.

The little boy after me, I was never told a name. In my 30’s my uncle told me about his burial, how he and some other men stayed behind, with shovels, to cover the grave.  My uncle’s Adam’s Apple bobbed as he told me how I picked up a little handful of dirt and told my uncle that I wanted to help cover my little brother.

I don’t think of these siblings often, but they do cross my mind, in both happy times and sad. When I was younger I felt measured, as if I needed to overachieve to justify that I got the chance, and they didn’t.  That all somehow changed, not because I rose to heights, but because I fell to bottoms.  Maybe there’s something to learn on the mountaintop, but I wonder; I know for sure that school is in session at Between Rock ‘N Hard Place.

In the same way that I’ve come to peace with grace, that I can never earn myself into heaven, so too I’ve reached an appropriate humility about the gift of ever being alive. Every pump of heart, every vacuum of lungs, all the moments, all gift.

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This story is written to you who may read, but it’s also a prayer to Him, my Maker, the Giver of Life.

Thank You for the ever-being, for the still-being.  Thank You for what I had to work with, for the place I call home, for the people I call family, for a million second chances, for being constant when I wasn’t, for the day after day and year after year, and for as little fruit as I have borne, thank You for love and grace, the hope of being worthy, the peace of knowing I don’t have to be, and the promise that You see eternal soul where I see candle-getting-shorter in the mirror.

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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where Uncle P has entered his sixth decade and feeling mighty humble and genuinely grateful.

You can find more Bedtime Stories on the Eighty-one Facebook page.  He can be reached at 81creativity@gmail.com.

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