I have long thought of my 36th birthday as some kind of grand hallmark. I knew it would feel big in one way or another. Last Saturday I hiked up to Lake Colchuck. It was a hike that I had been hoping to take for several years. I made all kinds of excuses for not going earlier. It was too long. I couldn't find the trailhead. The hike was too hard. I had no one to go with. I finally I decided that I just needed to go, and so I went. It took all kinds of planning and intention and even saying "no" to other invitations, but I wanted to do something special for this particular birthday, and so I went.
I do not particularly remember my mother's 36th birthday. I never gave much thought to the idea that it would be her last. Yes, she had been ill, but she was overcoming. She was getting better, and then she didn't. Just like that she didn't. We lost her.
You see this is what I do. I reach different points along the way in my life and I look to my mother. I look to see where she was at the adjacent time in her life. She is naturally my model (and a wonderful one at that) but her life has also been a means of measuring mine. When did my mother have babies? When did my mother struggle with her weight? When did my mother fight with my father? (never) When did my mother go back to work? This whole time I've been measuring.
I'm not totally sure that I set out to have "an experience" on my 36th birthday other than to simply enjoy a hike and see the beauty of an alpine lake. But as I reached the top of the trail, and just before the short descent into the basin of the lake, I felt the tears coming.
I felt my leg muscles strong, I felt my skin sweating, I felt my lungs burning. I felt my heart so full of love, my mind so full of thought, my spirit so full of wonder, my whole self just so full of gratitude.
I felt my mother.
I felt reaffirmed that I was indeed: more awake, more whole, more understanding, more accepting, more loving, more excited, more intentional, less afraid and more alive, than I'd ever been. I felt a strange sense of freedom to launch into this uncharted territory beyond age 36. I felt a freedom to make my life my very own in a new and different way.
I stood, however, pacing on the rock hovering over the glacial water. I wanted so much to dive in, but I couldn't see the bottom. I wanted so much to be brave, to care little about the risk, to be bold and adventurous. I couldn't see the parallel lines between my mother and I anymore. Looking forward I could only see me. How would I measure? Who would I look to? I wasn't sure that I could do it. I didn't think I could dive out into the cold deep. But in the gentle way that mothers do, I felt her nudge me. I felt her encourage me to live, because I was alive.
I jumped in. I actually jumped in once, got back out, jumped in again, and then one last time- dove in head first.
I was surprised by the freedom that I felt wash over me that afternoon as I lay swaying in a hammock nearby. I guess I assumed that it would feel strange and unfair to out-live my mother. I looked over at the mountain, the lake, the beauty around me, the beauty inside of me. I felt peaceful. The rest is going to be so good.
Thank you for your example all these years mom. I happy that at 36 you were given your freedom, and I'm happy that I was given mine.
So much love.