Context Is A Gift

Last night was my birthday eve, and today is my birthday, and most of you know how much I enjoy birthdays in general. Christopher and I were supposed to be in Boston, but the universe pulled a neat trick in making it all right that we ended up staying home.

Joseph-Beth, bookstore extraordinaire, just happened to be hosting one of the last event's on the epic Neil Gaiman final signing tour. Now, here's the thing, Neil is one of my oldest friends. I've known him since I was a teenager. And another of my oldest friends is Sunshine Ison, who I've also known since I was a teenager, and is actually how Neil and I met. Because we are all busy and far-flung and a host of reasons, we haven't been in the same place in more than a decade.

But here we are last night, in the green room before the event.


Green room hijinks!


That was a birthday gift.

So many memories I have with both of these guys (late nights watching Jerry Springer and snarking on beauty pageants, discovering screwball comedy and books that remain favorites). It was absolutely lovely to see them both, especially at the same time, and steal a little catch up. (And, holy moly, I do not know how Neil is doing this–well, I do, because he held up his hands side by side to show us the swelling in the signing one. Yeeouch.) I'm lucky to have so many people I've been friends with almost as along. And I'm lucky to have friends who are dear to me who I haven't known nearly as long, like Laurel Snyder, who the universe is bringing through town tonight, randomly; I couldn't have wished for better birthday serendipity. My storehouse of memories is constantly growing.

The point I want to make with this is my problem with the way we're supposed to feel about getting older. We're supposed to hate it, especially us ladies (what good will we be when we're oldies and our looks go? goes the dumbdom–the opposite of wisdom). But I have rejected that since I was a teeanger. I know there are bad parts about getting older–I imagine this is especially true when people you know and love start to pass away, and illnesses strike with greater frequency. But.

What you get back in return is the context of yourself, of your life lived. All the things you learn, all the things you still have to learn. All the people you've known, and still know, and will come to know. Every dear friend I have is part of who I am today, this minute, this second. Relationships change over time, just as we all change over time, and we can hope and try to make it for the better whenever possible. Birthdays are to be celebrated, because life is to be celebrated. All these days we get are gifts. Recognize the bad and let it go, and embrace the gift instead.

Speaking of embraces… One of my favorite books of all time is Eduardo Galeano's The Book of Embraces–I'm not sure if I discovered this first or if Sunshine did, but I do know we both loved it, way back in high school. The other night, on a lark, I searched tumblr for Galeano quotes, and found disappointingly few. One that kept turning up was this one: "We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine."

Which is nice (though hardly his most important work), but which seemed wrong to me. So I pulled down my copy and found the context. If you haven't read The Book of Embraces, do yourself a favor; it's a unique mix of the universal and the specifically political; it's got strange, ironic, wonderful illustrations, and brief pieces that sometimes tell a story and sometimes don't. It all adds up to something special and magical. Here's the short piece that quote came from in its entirety, because it also seems birthday-appropriate:


The sun was gentle, the air clear, and the sky cloudless.

Buried in the sand, the clay pot steamed. As they went from ocean to mouth, the shrimp passed through the hands of Fernando, master of ceremonies, who bathed them in a holy water of salt, onions, and garlic. There was good wine. Seated in a circle, we friends shared the wine and shrimp and the ocean that spread out free and luminous at our feet.

As it took place, that happiness was already being remembered by our memory. It would never end, nor would we. For we are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass, which is something everyone knows, no matter how small his or her knowledge.

It's better with the context, isn't it? Yeah, of course it is, and so is life.

This book also has my favorite dedication ever, one that makes me tear up every time I read it: "Cedric Belfrage died shortly after finishing his translation of my work The Book of Embraces. We had already worked together for many years. Each one of his translations increased our certitude of mutual identification. I would recognize myself in each of his translations and he would feel betrayed and annoyed whenever I didn't write something the way he would have.

"A part of me died with him. A part of him lives with me."

My birthday can only be happy because of all the people in my life, and so thank you, all of you, and most especially Christopher. Go out and do something happy today that your memory will already be remembering.

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