Friday, July 30, 2010

Birth Day

Today is my birthday. I'm 55 and still alive! Obvious, of course, at least while I'm doing this writing, but a non-obvious aspect is that today I am officially older than my older sister, my oldest sibling, who died at age 54. I felt her "presence" comforting and encouraging me this morning; still, it's sobering to stand at the front of the line. But not enough to reverse my love and gratitude for this day.

On my birthday, I almost always visit the concept of "birth," a particularly deep well among the deep wells that water the human imagination. (And for those of us touched by adoption, the well may be even deeper.) I wonder about my own birth, about birth in general: just what is it that happens, what are we celebrating? Of course, it's about coming to life, though before we are born we're already alive, if still aquatic, dark-inhabiting, and silent. At birth we claim our terrestrial, diurnal nature; we first receive the gifts of air and of light. We make sound, that first wail of terror and/or joy! It's about the first separation, the first foray from the security of confinement to the risk of freedom. (I will mention that there is an entire story about mothers and children here, but it deserves its own post.)

I wonder, too, about the birth of my children, from which I was absent. I who did not give them birth, vicarious mother, waited and imagined what it would be like, the primal mystery of heaven and earth, of flesh and spirit, happening so far from my own body. I know a few precious details about their births, such as, one had already evident broad shoulders and was delivered using suction to his head, the other was delivered with forceps, the dents from which remained for weeks. They are little proofs of my sons' arrival into the world by the standard method, which I've heard is a fact many adoptees often do not take for granted. Since their births occurred outside of our family, I wonder if there is an implicit urge to skip to the time when we were all together, to gloss over the birth chapter of the story, to not dwell on their own, private, day of Light and Air. In fact, once I heard an adult adoptee say that when she was growing up, her family celebrated her adoption day instead of her birthday(!?!). Though I think all of the partying distracts my sons from focusing on the fact of their births, I have always hoped I could make a comfortable space for each of them to hold and treasure his own birth day.

On my 55th birthday, on this day in midsummer when surprise lilies and cardinal flowers are blooming and cicadas are calling at high decibels, I am thinking about the natal gift of air. Talk about something we take for granted, something that usually seems more like a "nothing." But eagles and hummingbirds, not to mention 747s, are supported by it, it can feel good when it moves around us at the right temperature and speed, or, as the Talking Heads put it in the eponymous song, "Air can hurt you, too" (as in a tornado). And without it we're just finished. Even more than food or drink, it is what connects our bodies with the outside world. As BKS Iyengar said in The Tree of Yoga (I am paraphrasing), when we take in air, (inhale), we reach out, contacting the world; when we let it out (exhale), we return, retreat, to our self. Our first birthday present keeps on giving, with us reciprocating, the most basic form of balance, as long as we breathe. For free.

And that gratuity is, I think, the heart of the of birthday elation, celebration. A birthday arrives with its gratuity every year, regardless of one's laziness, carelessness, disorganization, procrastination, incompetence, immaturity, selfishness, or worse, along with chronic doubt and senseless guilt, the things that constrict the free flow of air in and out of us. It is entirely undeserved, like amnesty, like forgiveness.