Double Nickels

 Today is my birthday.

I’m 55. Double nickels.

Birthdays naturally call us to reflection, to assessment, to accounting. “What, I wonder, should I celebrate on this birthday – a life well spent or a future where more needs to be done?”(Doug Thompson’s 2002 article, “Dealing with the Double-Nickel“)

I could focus on the past, where there have been adventures and loves and moments of “glad grace.” I could spy, scattered among the litter of years left behind, all of my greatest experiences and best impulses. It seems only yesterday…there was nothing under my skin but light. If you cut me I could shine (see poem, below).

Or, for a different take on the past, I could remember the first time I gambled, at a casino in Colorado. I played the nickel slots all night, plugging my winnings back in, over and over. The coins turned my fingers gray, then black. When I left hours later, they poured all those shiny silver nickels into a counting machine – and handed back to me the same ten dollar bill I started the evening with. Sometimes my life, on reflection, feels like that night – plugging my nickels in over and over only to end in the same place I started. Breaking even; a lot of change with the only visible difference being the grime left on my fingers.

Or I can forget about both sorrow and cynicism, and instead of parsing the past look to the future as if there is much yet to be lived and gained and created; as if my life has been neither gloriously squandered nor tediously labored at with little to show – but instead spent (nickel after nickel) preparing for this day. And the next, if I am lucky.

Ah, birthday angst. What are you good for, huh? Perhaps a little perspective?

Last night, discussing the annual birthday funk, a friend shared the Billy Collins poem, below. The ten year old narrator in the poem laments the loss of his single-digit years, remembering their magic while recognizing that the sad realities of adult consciousness are upon him. The poem points to both the pathos we feel at the passage of time AND the absurdity of lamenting it at each mile-marker.

Last night also brought lessons in how to approach looking forward on the eve of another birthday. President Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was moving and inspiring – reminding me that hope is never wasted. We – every single day – get to choose our stance. In the minutes immediately after the speech I thought of Viktor Frankl, whose words have so often pointed me in a positive direction: Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. And into that moment of profound reflection, my dear friend Molly tweeted this: “Emotional re-set. Let’s all wake up tomorrow and be better. Do better. Lead better. Speak better. #goals”

So, that’s where I’ve landed this morning, smack dab on my double-nickels birthday: with perspective on the past and goals for the future. That feels about right. Here’s to believing that 55 is my lucky year – because that’s how I plan on using my personal power to choose.

On Turning Ten by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light–
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk through the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

 

 

 

 

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Flashback Friday

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CHRIS!

The flashback photo for today is of my parents and my older sister, Chris. Tomorrow is Chris’ birthday, and it seemed fitting to offer a few thoughts on the woman who has been there every single day of my life! Despite all the years of arguing to the contrary, I have to admit it is no easy task to be the first-born child – especially if you are lucky enough to have a gaggle of younger siblings. Chris took her role as eldest seriously, caring for us, teaching us, scolding us, and loving us. And she continues to be there for us. When my niece, Zoe was born with some complications, who did my youngest brother Matt turn to for advice? When I just want to hear the voice of someone who will help me feel “normal” (whether I am sick or just tired), Chris is the person I call.

I love this particular photo of Chris, face squeezed between our parents, looking a little unsure about whether this is a good thing. Its a look I’ve seen on her face throughout our lives – she for sure has an idea how this photo could be better, she’s just too young to direct it! And even though we all tease her mercilessly about her need to control situations, we would, in truth, be lost without her planning and problem-solving skills. At the graduation of one of my nephews, a woman from Chris’ church said, “So, you’re Jeni! Wow, I bet it was tough for you growing up with Chris! She must have been a little on the bossy side!”  Wow, someone was finally affirming my childhood pain. But as I looked around me, at the joy and pleasure on the faces of my sister’s friends and family, at the smoothly run reception which allowed everyone to be relaxed and celebrate the occasion, I found myself irritated that this woman had the gall to criticize my sister. I told her, “Shut up and mind your own beeswax!” Not really. But I told her the truth, that I was thankful for every minute of it!