Yesterday I woke, and was 54 years old. And it was the first birthday of my life when I was not greeted by the voice that gave me birth.
It was a hard day.
I thought grief was nearly done with me, but the events of the previous weekend brought us closer again, grief and I. Yesterday it caught me up, like a white cloth in a storm; soaked and shook and wrung me and then cast me up on a raw place, a dusty porch where, gradually, I dried and warmed in the sun. And then the day grew better, when I could see it again.
This is just how it is, and it's better to go limp and allow yourself to be tossed around; it hurts less than fighting against a force that's stronger than your rational mind or conscious will.
On Saturday I had gotten up early, before anyone else, and left my father's house and walked down the railroad tracks and out through the field, still gravelly with forty-year-old railroad cinders that now sprout hemlocks and spindly pin cherries and blue-flowered viper's blugloss. I remembered walking there through the snow with my mother on one of our last excursions together, getting some Christmas greens last year. Canada geese honked uneasily from the pond on the other side of the tracks, and as I entered the woods and climbed up the ridge I startled a partridge. On the top of the ridge, which is narrow, steep, and dark, were the large trees I remembered from decades ago. A whir of large wings stirred the canopy. I stood there for a while, watching, listening, and then I walked east along the ridge and the old fenceline, picking my footfalls carefully. I came to a particular tree that had a split just below waist-height, and saw that it had a cavity between the divided trunks. Without hesitating, I knelt down on the moss and started picking through the stones that lay there. I chose six or seven and stacked them in the tree's cavity: a small, balanced cairn.
This, too, was not a rationally considered act.
As I came back to myself yesterday, I thought about it though, and was glad I'd acted, and not thought too much. I've done things like that all my life. Not often. But when I've needed to, something - some urge - has beckoned, and most of the time, I've gotten out of the way and listened and acted, in private, accompanied not by human eyes but by a catbird hopping in the branches and the breathing of the trees.
My birthday ended happily. I talked to my father, who had had a good day and had also sent me a special gift, and my husband cooked dinner for me and our dear friends and neighbors, who sang me "the birthday song" in English and then in Icelandic at the urging of their three-year-old daughter. We drank champagne, and ate carrot cake; the kerosene lamp glowed.
Next year they'll be back in Iceland, and who knows where we'll be. Life moves on, like the wind, and we can choose to observe the moments: the circle of the table, of the branches, of the hands, of the stones.