Today is my birthday. 56 years ago today I came into this world. I should say I was brought into this world. They had to come and get me and I didn’t come quietly. I understand that there were some touch-and-go moments during the C-section that brought me into this place but in the end mother and child were well. “Congratulations,” the doctor said. “It’s a boy.” OK, so you can’t be right every time.
Usually I consider my birthday a festive event. For the last several years I have celebrated my birthday as an octave. I usually treat myself to something special each day of the octave. I usually buy a balloon and keep it all eight days. However this year I don’t feel very festive. No balloon this year. I think I’ll just mark the day of my birth and not celebrate the octave this time.
I’m pensive this year. I’m reflecting on all that has happened since my last birthday. What year it was! Bits and pieces are floating through my mind now.
Last October found me celebrating with my husband and wondering about my job at the Print Center. I would eventually lose my job at Providence but then get hired on as a temp worker with nothing but an uncertain future guaranteed.
Thanksgiving Day Howard and I had a wonderful private dinner. It was a joy to cook together and share that meal in our home. We slept late the next day and enjoyed each other’s company and got up to lunch on leftovers and sweet potato pie.
Christmas Eve found me at St Mark’s, serving in the same community that has nurtured me since the day I came to Episcopal Church. Christmas Day Howard and I boarded a plane for Cleveland, his first visit to my home. My mom’s health was failing and during our visit she had to be taken to the hospital. When it was time to go back to Seattle I left with a heavy heart knowing that this was the last Christmas I’d spend with my mom. I cried on Howard’s shoulder most of the way back.
January I came down with the flu and then pneumonia. On the day of our first wedding anniversary I was sick and in bed. Howard and I had no chance to celebrate. It took a long time for me to fully recover. I don’t know what I would have done without Howard.
February 25th–Howard brought me to work. We kissed. And he droves off happy and excited about many things. I watched him drive off as usual and turned to walk into my workplace. That would be the last time I saw him alive. March: funeral, Shiva, Lent, darkness.
Holy Week found me at St Mark’s. At the Easter Vigil I had the honor to deliver the words of St Chrysostom Easter sermon. But even this incredible week held heartbreak. I found out that all three places at which I thought I could land a position had chosen someone else. Easter Sunday I headed for church but didn’t get there. I ended up at Howard’s grave weeping and feeling very much lost.
In May I got a call from my sister asking me to come home. She didn’t really know why she was asking. She just wanted me to come home. I went home. A few days after I arrived my sister and I were in the room with our mom when her breathing changed. I’d seen it before and knew what was about to happen. Prayers, oil, tears, words of love, holding hands, stillness. The rituals of death and farewell were well observed.
Less that three weeks later, news from home came: Dad is gone. He quietly slipped away to join his wife of 60+ years. They lay now side by side, as well they should. I wrapped myself in a prayer shawl that the ladies of St Stephen’s had given me and wept long.
Grief consumed June and July and August. Painful days: my mom and dad’s anniversary, Dad’s birthday, Howard’s birthday, the anniversary of my ordination. But in August came a conversation. That led to an invitation and a surprising new chance to serve in a parish. I find myself in the midst of children and carrying forth my vocation at Ascension in Seattle.
It has been a hard and deeply sad year for me. Yet by the grace of God, here I am with yet another chance for a new start. Though I don’t feel like celebrating this year I do still have joy. If I were to sing a song today, this would be the one I would sing:
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.