There should be a word for the very specific pleasure that comes from being a room with so many people you love. The pleasure of collecting your peeps, from disparate parts of your life, and putting them in a room together to love each other up.
This was just part of the deep joy that was my birthday this year.
I spent the afternoon wandering through downtown San Francisco, popping in and out of stores and taking in all of the action that is a Friday evening downtown. I bought myself an awesome new jacket and a fancy pair of boots. My godparents met me and we strolled around looking at the ice skating ring that just popped up in Union Square, the enormous Christmas tree, and the huge photo of Brad Pitt on the side of Macy’s. I felt like a country girl in the big city. Everything looked so exciting!
I think it’s taken me 41 years to figure out what kind of celebration suits me best. Is it a party? Is it quiet? Is it raucous and loud? Big or small? Night or is it day?
This year I nailed it.
It was hosted by my dear friend Viola in San Francisco who is an incredible cook. We had beef bourguignon, cauliflower mash, and a simple salad perfectly dressed. The cake was itself a masterpiece– made from hazelnut flour, chestnut flour, olive oil, honey, cardamom and orange peel. Served with fresh whipped cream. Divine.
And the best part? We told stories all night long. I heard the stories of how each of the people in my life met their partners, how each of us became friends… It was like a round robin of stories, one after the other, a spontaneous celebration of love and connection. Viola also told an unforgettable story about her time in Antarctica. (She and her husband go each year and study penguins) She described the extraordinary quiet there, so quiet that you can hear whales breathing in the distance, miles away.
The best part
The best part though? Was having an experience of how loved and adored I am. This is something that I know intellectually, something that I could say in words. Yeah, yeah. I know I am loved… But to feel it? To be deeply present to my own goodness? is something else.
Is it the meds?
I’ll admit. I have been wondering this lately. Any feeling of well-being, of joy, of calm is followed up by a question: Is that the Zoloft kicking in?
I keep waiting for something extraordinary to happen. For the medicine to kick in so I will know if it’s working or not. But after six weeks I am seeing that it’s more subtle than that. What I’m seeing is that when I am in survival mode (anxious, worried, can’t breathe, panicky) there is no room for love. There is no room for gratitude. There is no room to do anything but check the next thing off the list, get through the day, feel relieved when everyone falls asleep, and get back to the desk in the morning to do it all over again.
There was no room for joy.
And maybe that’s what the medicine (and the exercise, no sugar, good food, space from the computer, etc.) has given me. Some room. Some distance from the circumstances in my life that feel hard. A break from the vigilant state I’ve been in for years.
I was trying to describe this to a friend the other day. “I don’t know,” I said. “I feel like I am saying I love you more to the people in my life and I actually mean it! Not that I didn’t before, but they were more like words, like a refrain. Now I feel like I am saying it in slow motion, like the words are suspended in the air. I am feeling into it like I’ve never experienced before. It is the most extraordinary thing.”
And that, my friends, has been the best birthday gift yet.