Today I turn fifty. I’m not really sure what I expected fifty to feel like, but I don’t feel much different than before. In no way was I dreading this birthday; I’ve loved birthdays that end in “0”s in the same way that I’ve loved birthdays with the same double digits (11, 22, 33, 44, etc). They feel more special than the others. I love that my birthday is the same day as Loving Day (and off by just one year from the actual pronouncement). I like to think that I was born of a generation that recognized equality for all (I know that we haven’t, though). I’m saddened that two years ago my birthday was the day of the Pulse nightclub shootings in Orlando, Florida. For the past three years, it’s made me reflect on how much work we still have to do with regards to gun control, tolerance, and acceptance. These feelings mix with each other in a fabric that can only be described as human.
The overwhelming feeling that I’m feeling this year, however, is grateful. So incredibly grateful.
I moved back to North Carolina in September last year. I looked forward to moving to a smaller city after living in San Francisco for twenty-five years. I looked forward to quiet, to calm, to a slower pace of life, and to being closer to mountain trails. And I’ve found all of those. And more. I’ve found community, and kindness, and friendliness. As I planned to move, though, I did think to myself, “I’m kind of sad I won’t be in San Francisco to celebrate my 50th birthday.” San Francisco is where my friends are – the ones who I’ve known for twenty plus years. When I was moving, I envisioned having dinner at a nice restaurant in Asheville by myself on my birthday. A lovely birthday, but perhaps a lonely one.
Yet that’s not what happened.
Earlier in the year, a few friends said that they wanted to fly to Asheville to celebrate with me. I was taken aback. Flying to Asheville isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s a tiny, charming, regional airport with very few direct flights to anywhere. So I planned a few events – a lunch at a favorite local restaurant, Rhubarb, an evening at Biltmore to see Chihuly’s work, a bbq at my house. And the weekend so far exceeded any expectations I could have imagined.
Friends from college met friends from San Francisco met friends from Atlanta met friends from New York met friends from Asheville met friends from water aerobics class met family. Everyone loved getting to know each other. There was amazing food (hello, bbq!) and engaging conversation. There were bouquets among bouquets of flowers (my absolute favorite gift in the world). And there was love. So much love in the air.
A local friend told me, “Just enjoy the present moment. You never know what will come next. But you can love, and appreciate, what you have right now.” Great advice not just for birthdays, but for every day.