Last Saturday was my birthday. It was also the anniversary of a year in pandemic mode, of cautious living, of extreme anxiety, of processing grief for everything and everybody that has been lost. Last year I had big (Vegas-level big) plans for my birthday. My whole family was gathering for a multi-day fest because I was turning 40. My family doesn’t need much of a reason to get together and party, but the timing was perfect and the schedule of events promised a weekend of my favorite things with my favorite people. I was really looking forward to it.
We canceled the celebration shortly after the WHO announcement. I guess we still held onto a sliver of hope that this virus wasn’t actually going to affect the U.S. or us. What hubris. Instead on my big day, I ordered West Indian take out, turned out the lights, and turned on a movie. I don’t remember which one. I wasn’t really watching. I felt sad unpacking my sparkly outfits that would be appropriate nowhere else but The Strip. My husband did make me a fabulous carrot cake from scratch. He is a terrific baker. Still, it was a pretty pitiful “Cuarentena”.
We didn’t know then that there would be a whole year of Covid-19 affected birthday celebrations, or that we would become quite good at them. I have been asked to participate in dozens of zoom calls, socially distanced picnics, outdoor yoga classes, compilation videos, and deliveries of everything from champagne to cookie arrangements. My aunt rented a parking lot and turned it into a drive-in movie theater for my uncle’s 70th. We are so clever under duress.
When it became apparent that I would have another Covid Birthday, that we would not, in fact, re-enact my celebration in person a year later, I tried to rally. There remains a lot to be grateful for after all. While I still cannot be with my family and friends scattered across the country, we are all alive and getting vaccinated. We are very, very lucky. There will be other gatherings, maybe sooner, maybe later. In the meantime, the truth is that I am tired of adapting. I have adjusted and transformed and modified so much these last twelve months that I just can’t do it anymore. Instead, I chose to fully embrace the best parts of this year, which have been learning to appreciate quiet and to value my own company. So for my 41st birthday I checked myself into a hotel and celebrated in joyful solitude.
It will not surprise any mother or any teacher and especially any mother-teacher that this turned out to be the very best idea. Two friends surprised me by sending reinforcement libations and sweet cards. I took several naps. I ordered food at 9pm and bought bubble bath at a nearby CVS. In the morning I meditated in a garden and walked the city at my own pace. It was a true retreat and a gift I needed: permission to throw away ideas about getting back to normal and let this new life be what it will. Resistance seems futile under the continued circumstances.
Every year, my birthday falls on the vernal equinox, The First Day of Spring, which marks when the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are of equal length. In the Northern Hemisphere, it means longer days with more light are ahead. Having recently gotten into crystals, I brought a few along. I think I like most the way these metaphysical tools make my intentions tangible. On this vernal equinox birthday, I thought about what I needed most to bring my life into balance as we anticipate better days ahead and a return to at least some aspects of the before times. What was it I wished for, beyond the health and well-beling of my loved ones?
There is first and foremost Compassion, of which I am discovering new levels. I have never felt more connected to or concerned with other people or more committed to acting out of love in ways that diminish harm. We are all dealing with so much. I have a lot more appreciation, acceptance, and grace for myself. This year, I hope to offer these to others.
I also invoke Courage. This year has required so much courage just to get through the day. The coming months will continue to require strength and fortitude. I hope I can lean in and show up in the ways I am called to.
Lastly, I manifest Creativity. I am also celebrating a year of publishing this blog and the decision to share my thoughts, ideas, and writing with a wider world. There are some awesome projects on the horizon that I will share more about soon. I have never thought of myself as an artist, but apparently it’s never too late to develop a craft, and as the Quakers say, The Way Will Open.
A year in pandemic has been awful in many ways, and revelatory and transformative in others. It has changed me, but mostly for the better. Healing from this trauma may take a long time, but if it has made me softer and more vulnerable, more in touch with humanity, more respectful of life, then so be it.
When I got home my husband had made me another cake. Strawberry this year. Different and delicious. My son bought me purple flowers because he knows that is my favorite color. After a year of pandemic, I know enough to cherish the simplest acts of love. In the end, it is all that matters.