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Friday, September 5, 2014

Happy Birthday from the Outermost Inn

                Daytime view from Aquinnah            dee

Today is my birthday. I have a peculiar sense of detachment about it. I feel proud to be able to claim another year of knowledge, discovery and survival.  I have never been a person that demands a lot of public recognition, with streamers and party hats on the anniversary of my birth; I do not expect a status elevating the date to the prominence of a National Holiday. I have known people who are actually offended when their entire birthday is not spent in tribute to them.  They schedule vacation days because, “they deserve them.”  I have no such sense of entitlement. On the other end of  the spectrum, I have a friend whose husband comes from a family of Friends that did not acknowledge birthdays in any way.  Not even with a simple card or casual morning greeting kiss and a “ Happy Birthday.”   My friend stood her ground when they had children; their children had birthday celebrations, a gift or two and yes, sometimes birthday parties. I respected her going toe to toe with him on that score.

I have been blessed with a rich library of birthday memories. As it turns out, the birthdays that mean the most to me are my children’s. The days of their births are what imbued the most meaning in my life. 
My own date of birth became special on my fifth birthday. My mother, father and sister, my aunt and my grandmother were all there for dinner.  I received several books I had wanted. There was a cake with candles and I blew them all out in one long breath.  I was surrounded by those who loved me most, and they each had a gift for me. It was exactly that feeling that has served as a benchmark for Happy Birthdays ever since. When I was growing up, the birthday ritual included choosing the dinner menu for that night. (I inevitably chose fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn and a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting).  After dinner, there were cards and a couple of modest gifts such as a book or a dress my mother sewn. There was always talk about the year to come.
            Scanning through remarkable birthdays, the next one that jumps out at me was when my lifetime friend threw a surprise birthday party for me on the Vineyard.  It was the summer that I turned twelve. I had never imagined such a thing, so my surprise was complete and utterly sincere. I recall my initial confusion about why all these people I knew somehow appeared in her house.  I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even understand it was for me until she told me! 
For about thirty-five years, my husband and I observed the tradition of a few exchanged nonsense words that we repeated instead of Happy Birthday at the beginning of the day. At breakfast, I opened any cards from family or friends that might have come on the days leading up to my birthday.  Throughout the day, my parents, my sister, and my friends would often give me call.  I cherished those moments more than I can measure. It felt good to be remembered.  After work, my husband and I – and later, our children, -- often went out to dinner.  He would give me his card (I received a ratio of funny cards to sentimental ones 8 out of 10 years) along with a thoughtful gift of jewelry or some form of technology or maybe a gift card for clothes that I always felt was too extravagant. My children would make me heart-rending drawings or “projects,” many I still have. Later, when they had control of their own money, the three of kids would, individually, or, on occasion, together, chip in, to find some ideal gift, an object I might have oft-handedly admired during the past month.  The girls seem to have a second-sense about such things. My son has been particularly keen on gift cards granting me access to his technological prowess. Truthfully, what the children probably never know is that the biggest gift is in their remembering. My closest friends and I never worried much about gift exchanges being on the specific birthday.  I was never, ever, convinced that I deserved them. They would surprise me with functional (an electric tea kettle), extravagant (a peignoir set),  and exotic (Italian hand-blown glass necklace).  While I treasure the thought and the effort put into making a selection it is the idea that someone thought about me that means so very much.
The past few years have followed different patterns of celebration. In fact, I have had to work a little harder than usual to celebrate. Not so much because I am growing older, more so because my life is not unfolding in the way I had envisioned it might. However, on each of my birthdays over the past four years, my friends and my children have found ways to delight me and restore in me that feeling of joyful pleasure I remember so well from my fifth birthday.  As it turns out, today has been no exception. It is a day for each of us to be reminded that we matter to others. That what we do and who we are makes a difference in their lives. 
In my lifetime, I have met several people who share my birthday. I have read extensive mathematical models that can be used to calculate the odds of a roomful of people sharing the same birthday. I believe that, in a room of 23 people, the odds are better than 50% that two of them share the same birthday.  Among my friends, there are three of us; in addition to me, there is my mother’s best friend, Nan, and my best friend’s neighbor, Michelle.
Michelle called me earlier this week to say she was thinking about our birthdays. I asked her if this was “the big one?”
“Sixty!” she said.
“What do you have planned?”
“A couple of friends are joining me for dinner. I made reservations in Aquinnah at the Outermost Inn. Sunset is at 7:09 p.m..  We will have drinks on the lawn, then dinner at 8p.m.  I can’t think of a place I would rather be than on the furthest tip of the Island watching the sunset on my birthday.”
Aquinnah is an Island treasure. Located near the Vineyard’s famous clay cliffs. Aquinnah is bordered by the Vineyard Sound to the north and northwest and the Atlantic Ocean to the south and west. Sunsets are a marvel to behold from that vantage point on the Island. The Outermost Inn serves superb meals.  Though it is the only restaurant for fine dining in the smallest town on the Vineyard, it rivals any three star restaurant in New York City. Dinner is by reservation only.
When I hung up with Michelle, I googled the phone number for the Outermost Inn and dialed them immediately.  Reception was spotty. When I got through with my conversation, I had given myself a birthday gift.
                        Sunset over the Atlantic                  dee
When Michelle and her guests settle into the lounge chairs for the sunset display tonight, they will be served a bottle of Veuve Cliquot.  They can toast her sixty years, and, together, keep their chairs turned westward to watch the sun slip below the horizon. The sweet satisfaction of having made those arrangements was multiplied a few days ago when Michelle called.  Knowing I wouldn’t be back on the Island for another 25 days, she offered me a room in her house for the weekend.  She wondered if I would like to join her and her friends at the Outermost on our birthdays. Regrettably, I had to decline because I am going to visit my daughter in Philadelphia at her new abode.  However, if astral projection is all that it is supposed to be, I will be with them tonight.  Around seven o’clock, I will plug my headphones in and use Hypnosis for Deep Trance Mind Travel (Healing Astral Imagery) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsrhpqiibNAd to settle in beside them on an Adirondack chair.  After a while, I expect to find myself hovering somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean in a time continuum in which all my birthday celebrations from the past, and and present and all the joyful possibilities of the future exist simultaneously in one space and time continuum.  Ultimately, the date and time of my birth are not what matter, the love I hold in my heart as the sun settles below the horizon are all that I will carry as I step boldly into a new year, no matter the astral plane on which I find myself.

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