It was pure serendipity. That a meeting would actually be held in person, rather than via Zoom, was the first indication of magic. That that meeting would be held in Statesboro, just minutes up the road from Sandhill, and that my friend Lea would be one of the attendees was the second. The final sign, the abracadabra-point-the-wand-in-my-direction sign, was that this meeting, this in-person meeting, would be held the week of my birthday.
And not just any birthday. The big birthday. The one for which the government sent me, months in advance, that brand new red, white and blue card that announces to all the world — especially medical personnel everywhere — that I am old. The one for which I would be very grateful to experience some magic.
Lea and I have known each other for over 20 years. We’ve known each other long enough that we can invite ourselves to spend the night at each other’s homes. Enough to know that the self-invitation will always be greeted with a “Yes! When will you be here?” And, since between the two of us there have been 40 birthdays, enough to learn the exact kind of celebration that produces wide smiles and deep sighs of gratitude. I could not wait for her to get to Sandhill.
She arrived with a smile that lit up the backyard, with a pat on the head for Owen, and with stories, lots of stories. She also brought birthday gifts, including a small ivory hand-thrown pottery planter with shallow bumps along the rim that felt like Braille, like words in a language I did not know but wanted –- no, not just wanted, but needed — to learn.
We went to supper at one of my favorite restaurants — magically open because I thought they were closed on Mondays. We sat outside and let the conversation of the other diners, the clink of silverware and the sound of the traffic merge into an incantation for peace and well-being. We talked and talked and talked until I understood why we use the phrase “catching up” for describing conversation between people who have not been together in a while, until I knew we were traveling abreast of each other, moving at the same pace and seeing the same things, at least for one night.
Back at Sandhill, after we’d walked outside to see where I’d hung her Christmas present from last year, the sign made of driftwood and shells that says "Home," and to watch for a few minutes the clouds backlit by the moon, Lea said, “Years ago — I think it must have been for a big birthday — I texted you to wish you a happy birthday and you responded with, ‘The view from here is beautiful.’ At first, I thought you were talking about the age, the place you were in life. And I thought about what a great thing that was to say, to feel.
“And, then, I realized you were talking about where you were physically. That you were standing on a balcony looking out at the ocean and the moon.” We both laughed.
I remembered that birthday. Remembered it well. Remembered standing on that balcony alone and watching the moon tremble as though it, too, was afraid of what came next. I would have called the view from where I stood hard. I would have called it disappointing. I would have called it unclear and scary. I would not have called it beautiful.
In retrospect, though, I would. And I do. I have lost enough, gained enough, seen enough in the ensuing 15 years to understand that the view from every birthday is beautiful. That standing on a balcony with the vastest of the ocean at my feet, that waking to sunshine over a field of cotton wet with dew, that simply breathing and walking around is enough.