Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Best Birthday Present

40 years ago on this day, San Francisco was in a rare heat wave. Our freezer was stocked with ice chips which I gave to my wife Karen when requested. We were in our home with my sister, the first-grade teacher at our school and two midwives ushering in one of the most extraordinary events a human being can experience— the bringing forth of new life. 


It was now the second day of a long labor. Once Karen had tried to balance the checkbook in-between contractions and soon realized she better pay more attention. We listened to Claude Bolling’s soothing flute and piano music, walked a bit outside, tried to remember what life was like when a conversation was not interrupted by “Oh boy, here comes another one!” I sang to the baby in the belly, played some recorder, encouraged her to come join the party. And finally, she did. 


After I had cut the cord and our new daughter Kerala lay on Karen’s chest for a bit, I took her away to the other room while the midwives attended to some further things, held her in my arms and whispered a Buddhist blessing in her ear:


“In this body is birth and death and the key to liberation from birth and death. Be a light unto yourself.”


And now 40 years later on an overcast cooler day, I wrote a Facebook message to my darling daughter. I reminded her of that blessing and continued: 


“Apparently, you took the advice and the world is brighter because of the caring, intelligence, beauty and humor you bring to it. That number declaring your age is as stunning to me as it is to you, but one way to look at it is deep gratitude for so many years of your brilliant presence. I love you to the ends of the earth. Oh, and Happy Birthday!!!!”


My wife is 70, one of my favorite musicians (Herbie Hancock) is 80, one of my favorite poets (Gary Snyder) is 90 and today, my first daughter is 40. Astounding! The lion’s paw of mortality keeps padding down the path and like everyone, we’re perpetually surprised by it. Where did all that time go?!! We may wonder, but we don’t get to solve it, just perpetually resolve to live deeper into each moment, truer to our purpose and grateful for those walking by our side.


Some five weeks after that miracle birth, Ronald Reagan was elected president of the United States. The first 12 years of Kerala’s  life were under the reign of people who embodied virtually nothing of what we were determined to teach her. And now we’re at the crossroads of the next turn in the political path and I needn’t say out loud what is clear— the best birthday present is within our reach, but in the new world of “this is not normal,” a world that almost makes us nostalgic for Reagan, we can count on nothing. Still, the end to the madness of the last four years would be the best birthday present for Kerala ever. (Along with a new bike rack, of course.)


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