The sun this morning is a cross-section of pink grapefruit back-lit by a strobe light. It balances on the horizon, pulsing and trembling with the tension of anticipation, as though the day cannot begin quickly enough. As the road curves, it moves back and forth like the bouncing ball on the old Mitch Miller television show and I find myself wishing desperately that I knew the song. I try to identify what I am feeling and I settle on wistfulness.
The summer has faded too quickly. The pale pink blooms on the cotton plants outside my back door that just days ago could have passed, at a distance, for tightly closed peonies, have popped like popcorn into thick white bolls. The rabbits have made their seasonal dine-and-dash into the hosta bed, leaving behind gnawed stems that splay out like the hair on a cartoon Einstein. The sycamore tree has dropped its first feeble leaves.
In a few days I will have a birthday. Is it possible that the wistfulness is not for the summer, but for something else?
I hear myself telling people that I will turn 55 and I wonder from where did that particular colloquialism came. The verb turn has so many different meanings — to change direction or allegiance, to rot or become rancid, to injure by twisting, to change color, to move around, to divert or deflect. None of them makes much sense in the context of getting older.
Last year, when I turned 54, I decided that before I gained another year I would do 55 things I'd not done before. There was no check-list; the point was to be open to newness and change and adventure in an intentional way and trust that Life would bring me experiences that would, in the words of Walter Cronkite, alter and illuminate my times.
So, in the last year I have, among other things, given blood, eaten an oyster, served communion, attended a drive-in movie and a Jewish worship service (within 12 hours of each other), run a road race, talked in my sleep, finally climbed the lighthouse on St. Simons and taken the hunter safety course. I also ate kale, collards, sushi and a tomato I grew myself. I spent a Saturday night riding in a police cruiser, signed a book contract and went to Europe.
The point, of course, was not the number itself or even reaching the goal (which I did with one week to spare). The point was to get to that next birthday and not simply be a year older, but a year wiser, wider, deeper, stronger. And I am. I know things, feel things, can do things that I did not know, had not felt, could not do a year ago. I have broadened my perspective and narrowed my focus. I, at long last, have an idea of what I am capable of being.
"Some things just come by birthdays," Daddy says. Including, I can now say, the value of birthdays themselves.
Within minutes the pink grapefruit sun has floated up into the sky like a helium balloon escaped from a toddler's fist. It is smaller, more yellow. Its light is less shimmery. It is no longer daybreak but early morning. And soon early morning will yield to day which will, in turn, give way to high noon. The round circle in the sky will move, will change size and color, will cast shadows and erase them completely before slinging them in the opposite direction. It will move all the way across the wide and wondrous sky before it silently slips from sight.
Is that, I wonder, what it is to turn 55 or whatever age is the next number up? Is it simply moving from one place to another in a graceful arc? Is it at long last recognizing oneself as a sun, not a moon, a body capable of producing its own heat and light? Is it finally, finally realizing that the changing size, the changing color, the presence or absence of shadows is nothing more than the illusions of those who watch from the ground?
I think I know the song now. Summer has faded.But autumn, golden autumn is on its way.