The first words I heard this morning were “Happy Birthday Daddy!” The first thought that went through my mind was “Oh for Crap’s Sake!” however my outside voices responded appropriately with “thank you sweetheart, give me a big kiss.” For as long as I can remember looking back I have loathed and resented celebrating my birthday. It has always been among the top worst days of my year, something I dread rather than anticipate. I have always admired people who boldly celebrate themselves and their birthdays, throwing big parties and truly happy to be there. Nothing would scare the hell out of me more than a party for the soul purpose of focusing on me. For those who know me they are probably baffled by this oxymoron.
Most people look back on their landmark birthdays and remember how excited they were to turn thirteen, and enter the world of being a teenager; I think I cried the whole day. I never looked forward to turning sweet sixteen, or 21 and honestly it’s been downhill ever since. I have persevered many a birthday parties don’t get me wrong, and some of them I really enjoyed, many I can’t even tell you about, because what goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas sort of thing.
It has never helped having a birthday in the holiday season. My birthday always happened during the school breaks, often I was traveling to or from for the holiday during my birthday. I even missed a couple of them traveling over the International Date Line a few years in a row, when I was coming back and forth from Africa. This season called Christmas an extremely peculiar memory for me, my father’s birthday was December 25 just three days between us, since we did not celebrate Christmas we chose to celebrate our birthdays as a combined holiday. He’d cook a special Chinese Food feast for us of all our favorites, many times we’d make the meal together, we’d sit and eat in our own silence and that would be that.
I am not afraid of aging, I also can’t say that I embrace it, but I have learned that resistance is futile. My father lived a healthy and long 92 years and I hope to follow in his footsteps. I remember when I was very young thinking he could die and leave me alone. I would ask him, “Daddy how much longer will you live?” His reply was always, “I’m not going anywhere, besides I need to see my grandchildren.” Sadly a desire that he was never able to live to see. I remember walking in and my overworked father reclining in a chair with the newspaper open on his lap, I would assume he was dead. I often walked up to him and checked to see if he was breathing. I would let out a big sigh of relief and go about my day. People constantly reminded me of our age gap, “wow you’re sure lucky your father is still alive!” This was so disconcerting to me; I mean what was I to do with this information? It seems as though I prepared myself every day for his impending death, but year after year, and birthday dinner after birthday dinner he was always there. I watch my son sleep at night and I think to myself, I can never leave this child, I can’t grow old and he must never fear that I will leave him.
For my birthday I chose to go to a Bikram Yoga Class. I’m not a huge fan of yoga, but of all the types this is the one I prefer most. It allows me time to myself in my own head, no interruptions. It went something like this:
Standing Deep Breathing – I am conscious of how precious breath and life is. A dear man, a leader in our community, a cultural icon, and an ambassador of our island passed away just yesterday at home alone, he was young, he was vital, and full of life. I am thinking about him now, and wishing I could share a breath with him right now. I realize how blessed I am.
The Half Moon, Awkward, Eagle and Standing Head to Knee pose all awaken the stiffness in my body making me alert to every strained muscle and tension that is limiting my movement. But I realize that as painful as this is I am feeling my body awake, alive and full of potential. It’s amazing how our bodies can go beyond the limits we thought possible.
The Balancing Poses like Standing Bow and Balancing Stick teach me to work with gravity, not to defy it but to extend myself into it. Life is a stretch; it’s a series of taking risks, choices and testing limitations. Balancing work, love, play and responsibilities are a constant. I had to take full responsibility for myself, there was no room for failure, there was no fall back plan, it was just me – if I was going to succeed and make a difference I had to do this on my own.
In poses lie the Tree Pose and the Toe Stand I am concentrating on my footing, how grounded am I? This is where I reflect on the foundation and principles that my father instilled in me. From a young age he prepared me for a future. I wonder now if in fact he was uncertain of his own lifespan. I share these concerns now, every day when I look at my son, I wonder if I am doing everything I can to prepare him for the world ahead.
The Savasana or Dead Body poses are the hardest for me. I have to lie still, focus on my own breath, eyes open and alert not drifting away in my mind. I never have down time in my life. I work; I am cleaning, cooking, parenting, and playing. There is house work, laundry, dogs to walk and bathe, there is teaching, and volunteering and community work to be done. I need to be a partner and a husband, read stories and find time to eat and sleep. The one treasure I miss the most in my life is a moment to myself, a quiet moment to do absolutely nothing, it’s hard to recall such a time in all my 51 years of life. So this Savasana should be it?
Finally we move to the floor for the rest of the poses. The animal series (I call them) Tortoise, Camel, Rabbit, Cobra etc. – the Camel Pose is the most difficult pose for me; it makes me want to vomit. I can feel the toxins move up my body into my throat until I literally feel sick inside. At this moment I instantly think of all the negativity in my life, the things that make me sick, the poor choices I might have made, the people I have felt toxic towards or feel are toxic. I realize that our plight is to control this area of our life the most; these are the hardest choices the moments that build our character the most. How do the sufferings in the world impact us? The violence in humanity?
Class winds down with spine twisting and then breathing. It’s like a renewal at this point. There were times in the past 90 minutes that I doubted I’d last. Suddenly there I was taking in new air, feeling stretched, longer and taller. I feel space between my bones and blood and oxygen flowing through every part of me. I realize how full of life I am, how much I have inside me. I have an entire life to share with my son, and I have my father’s life to share with him, and he will have all the best parts of us. There are no guaranteed numbers of birthdays we will have together but with each one we have to celebrate the moments we have. Celebrating my birthday with those I love would mean the most to me. Fully awakened and present, to share life and the possibility of tomorrow. I want to make dinner with my son and quietly reflect on the breath that we share.