When I was speaking to my friend Jean in Kentucky about my birthday yesterday, she said, “Uh, oh – you’re going to get black balloons and black icing on the cake, and all that gloom and doom stuff!” And, I said, “No, I don’t think so. I’m going to make it sparkle.” And I told her this story.
About ten years ago, when my mother was dying from emphysema and lung cancer (yes, she was a heavy smoker, and yes, you need to quit RIGHT NOW if you smoke!), I was traveling back and forth to Connecticut from Long Island by ferry on a weekly basis. On one particularly sad trip home, when I was facing the fact that my mother was indeed going to die, I parked my car next to a fire engine red Volvo station wagon. It was driven by a gray-haired woman of about 50, wearing jeans and a beautiful Pendelton wool shirt (which I would have loved to have used in a hooked rug), and a gorgeous diamond bracelet. She was playing with 2 dogs that she obviously adored, and who adored her right back. She looked completely at ease in her life, and she looked completely happy. I decided right then – sitting in my car feeling sorry for myself – that I was going to be like her when I turned 50. I wanted a trusty dog by my side, a red Volvo wagon, and a diamond bracelet to wear with jeans. Of course, what I really wanted was to reach middle age happy and at ease in my life.
When I arrived home, I told my husband Peter about my decision. He smiled and listened with half an ear and went back to work. I told my dear friend Paula about it too, and she got it immediately. Of course – why should I be surprised? Paula really listens, and she is gracious, generous, smart, kind, and she lives her life with more integrity than anyone I know. She has dealt with more loss and adversity in the past several years than any woman should have to, but every day she faces the world with warmth and curiosity and makes it shine. When people ask me what I want to be when I grow up (no, I haven’t quite grown up yet), I always say, “A writer.” When people ask me who I’d like to be when I grow up, I always say, “Paula.” So, I fused the image of the woman on the ferry with Paula’s fine qualities and filed the picture away in the part of my brain that wasn’t still refusing to face the fact that I would someday reach the half-century mark.
And here I am. Fifty years old. Have I become the fictional woman I created 10 years ago?
I have a wonderful little Jack Russell named Cairo who makes me smile everyday – even when he has to go out at 3 in the morning.
I have a red Volvo wagon – garnet red, not fire engine, but it’s close enough. It’s a dream to drive and is about as safe a car as there is.
And, yes, while on vacation last spring, I bought myself a diamond bracelet. I couldn’t bring myself to buy a big fancy shmancy one – you could feed a third world country on what a tennis bracelet costs, but I did get a little bit of bling.
But this is all just stuff. It’s not what really matters, is it? This is what matters: I have a wonderful family -- my slightly eccentric, artistic, and handsome husband Peter, who works hard and plays hard and let me get the Volvo, my absolutely gorgeous, smart, kind-hearted daughter Clara who has made the sun come up everyday since she was born 19 ½ years ago, and my talented sister, friend and business partner Barby (I’m the only one allowed to call her that – you have to call her Barb or Barbara or watch out!) who can turn a piece of wool and a strand of thread into a cunning little creature that probably comes alive when no one is looking. I’m pleased to say that Paula has moved back home to Greenport after an exciting and adventurous year in Manhattan, so I can follow her wonderful example first hand again. And I have many friends in the actual world and the cyber world who inform and energize my life on not just a daily or hourly basis, but minute by minute. That’s what matters.
I’m going to wear my sparkly bracelet everyday from now on – or until I lose it (I have a history of losing good jewelry in weird ways – I lost a watch Pete gave me for our 5th anniversary in a porto-potty, and on a boat ride last year, Clara’s friend Lea lost her balance and accidentally ripped a beautiful earring (another gift from Pete) out of my ear and sent it overboard. I still have dreams about sitting in a beachfront restaurant in the Caribbean, ordering a whole grilled grouper and finding my earring inside . . .). I'm going to wear it not to show off, but because it is a symbol of how life can sparkle.
When I finish here, I am going to make a donation in Paula's name to OPLC (One Laptop per Child, (http://www.xogiving.org/) a group that provides laptops that only cost $100 to children in developing countries, enabling them to have access to a good education), to pay tribute to her, to the stranger on the ferry who inspired me, and to the many friends I have made online through my magical Macbook Pro (and to alleviate the guilt I feel for wearing diamonds that probably aren’t free trade). Then I am going to get back to work.
So what have I learned in 50 years? It’s not youth or jewelry that make life dazzling – it’s the way you choose to live it.