The night air is a perfect temperature and the lapping water of the South China Sea serenades me as I sit alone at my table. Over my head, the palm tree and the half moon through its fronds, around me the quiet chatter of teachers gathered at a conference. Not in some large downtown conference center with no windows and forced air, but at a resort hotel in Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo. One could get spoiled here. Teach, jump in the pool, lie in a beach chair sipping a daiquiri while the sun sets, a quick change and off to dine outdoors in (miraculously) bug-free air. Like I said, one could get spoiled.
A Malaysian string trio starts playing, acoustic bass and two guitars, singing an eclectic repertoire mostly from 60’s rock. They launch into Del Shannon’s one-hit wonder Runaway and suddenly I’m in 7th grade in my newly-finished New Jersey basement listening to my record player. Runaway was one of small collection of 45’s (remember them?) my sister had. Another was Ricky Nelson’s Traveling Man and back then I listened to it as I dreamed a future I couldn’t see yet. There’s many a time since I’ve thought about that prophetic song—minus the “Polynesian baby I held tight while we danced in the sands of Waikiki.” Never happened, but tonight I’m thinking that this would be the perfect place to meet her.
But alas! the sweet bird of youth has flown away and it’s not a Winter migration with the promise of returning in Spring. No more that brightly-colored parrot strutting and preening, it’s the time in life’s cycle for the wizened and wisened grey old owl sitting alone quietly observing from some branch. But don’t we arrive there with some part of us kickin’ and screaming? Don’t we watch the flirt between firm bodies a bit chagrined that we’re out of the game? Be honest, my friends!
But if I’m also honest, the owl is a fine friend and truth be told, I’m happier now than I was in 7th grade. Today I taught two workshops whose titles could have been “Unbridled Joy, Laughter, Fun and a Few Profound Reflections.” If I look in the mirror, I’m a bit like the 7th grader worried about pimples (though the marks of age are different), but if the true mirror is the way we affect the world, then the happy faces of the participants is my own face and I find it pleasing. The power I’ve accumulated year by year is the capacity to unleash the glad possibilities of voices and bodies joined in song and dance. I couldn’t do that when I was 12 or 22 and I couldn’t do it quite as well at 32 or 42, not with the same depth at 52. There is great loss and nostalgia and sadness in aging, but also great pleasure and gain and happiness as well.
So farewell, sweet bird, it was a lovely flight and your winged trails and trilled songs still echo on with a touch of bitter-sweetness. No regrets, but it’s not so easy to let you go. And yet there’s a beckoning new song awaiting my embrace and I would be wise to follow it. No Polynesian beauties there, but my lovely granddaughter and approaching grandson instead. And isn’t that wonderful?