A Tale of Two Birthdays

That's my dog - another essential part of my family, of course.

On my birthday last April 15, I was in a convention center-turned-ocean of volleyball courts at an away tournament in Reno. I was coaching the girls’ club team I had been with for the previous five years, and somehow I had been saddled with carrying in the ball carts and ball bags. Some accident of the way our carpools had shaken out, I think. There were about a bajillion volleyball teams there, plus the coaches of those teams, plus the parents and families of the players, plus the officials and tournament staff.

Husband was in Alaska starting his new job. My best friends were mostly in California or Ohio, living their regular lives. My immediate family was in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, respectively.

In spite of all of the people who were physically around me at the tournament itself, I felt so terribly alone. Now I’m not a huge birthday person — I don’t need to be showered with presents and feel the need to have big parties. But at the time I remember thinking to myself and telling Husband on the phone, “All I want right now is for someone who really loves me to hug me today.” I found myself crying and wishing to be anywhere else in the world near a loved one. (For the record, the day ended well and memorably, thanks to my fellow coaches, who insisted on birthday fun — I am grateful to them for that, more than they know.)

I wasn’t then, nor am I now, concerned at all about adding years to my life. With age comes wisdom that I cannot have any other way, and I appreciate that fact. But at the time and on that day, I was slightly petrified of the unknown future: how was I going to make it through 2.5 more months living apart from Husband? And finish packing up our apartment essentially by myself? And figure out where to live and what to do in Alaska once we did move? Thinking about all of that was overwhelming, and having a birthday only emphasized that feeling of inevitable, uncontrollable change.

Fast forward to this past Sunday, another April 15 in a new year. Husband and I were down in Anchorage, and we were curling together in a bonspiel (read: curling tournament) with family friends. After two victories and one loss, we lost our last game, but that was completely overshadowed by how much fun it was to do something together, to laugh and joke with our teammates and opponents alike at both the great and not-so-great shots. The drive home was beautiful, given the advent of Alaska spring and our 12+ hours of daylight that are continuing to increase each day. Plus we jammed to some of our old CD mixes in the car — does anyone even do that anymore? A simple day with my most favorite person — no gifts required.

We still have lots to figure out going forward, but right now I’m not petrified the way I was a year ago. I have had a year to learn the virtue of “surrender,” as my great friend just wrote to me, even while facing a whole plethora of new challenges and uncertainties. I actually have a better sense of myself now and an ever-growing appreciation for the gift that is my family community, made by blood and by bonds of love & friendship that time and distance apart only strengthen. I understand better that making crazy, unexpected leaps sometimes is just part of the process of living a full life. I remember telling my friends that my plan before moving to Alaska was to just “flow with the Universe,” and so far the results have been solid. What a difference a year can make.

Every birthday I am more certain that the present I always want and wish for is time with my family and friends. Sometimes that time comes on un-birthday days, and they are no less special then. Reading the cards that arrived in the mail today reminded me yet again that I already have everything I need: Love in its best forms. And that holds true no matter where I might be in the world on April 15.

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