This year I had a birthday reminiscent of my childhood: surprising, magical, and warm. Growing up in Atlanta, the middle of March is usually host to a visual celebration of cherry and pear tree blooms. The daffodils might still be lingering. Decorative gardens have been planted with pansies, violas, and impatiens. Spring is springing.
In Michigan, as Steve recently texted me, March is the color of a dead deer on the side of the road. March is the dirt left behind when the pile of snow begins to melt–or it is fresh snow. Or it is a cold, freezing rain–rain makes you realize that snow is nicer. The utter miracle of resurrection is still a month away.
This year, my birthday lunch was a picnic in Wilhelmina park. It was warm. Steve and Brian played ping pong on the permanent tables next to the play ground. The kids took turns on two sets of roller blades, holding hands for stability. The women lounged on blankets and watched the crowd of college students grill rookworst, drink beer, and kick soccer balls. My sister and her family were visiting. For dinner, Steve surprised us with a boat hire to cruise our group of fourteen around Utrecht’s canals. Along the banks, the crocuses were blankets of purple, and the daffodils were beginning to open up. The Staggs baked me a cake. Brian held it aloft as he biked from home. On the top was a candelabra from Tiger Direct that reminded me of the playful crystal chandelier in our otherwise modernist row house. On the canal boat, we drank prosecco and dipped fresh vegetables from the Turkish groceries on Kanaalstraat into homemade pesto.
Against this scenery, we are the actors. I’m still me, with my fierce loves, my anxiety about living up to my own standards, my impatience, and my effort every day to just breathe and enjoy myself and others. This year, our setting is just about perfect. I pedal my bicycle along the most lovely backdrops imaginable. Every day. And soon (it feels so soon) we will get back into our automobiles and zoom down highways. That near end point changes how we live in this space, trying to notice every little thing. Every inconvenient wrestling match with a bike chain lock is novel. Every blue sky is another gift. Every chill on my skin reminds me that I’m outside, using my legs to get around, rather than stuck in traffic.
Margaret, at age 8, is homesick. She wants to go home, and to her this year feels endless. She misses her teachers at Stepping Stones. She misses building forts in the basement.
For me, at age 41, a year has never felt more ephemeral.