I celebrated my 37th birthday with my family as we enjoyed Father's Day as well, but I stole some time away for a birthday gift from me to me -- a long (slow) run by myself in a nearby battlefield whose open road amidst the tree-line gives me the space to breathe, sweat and reflect.
Like most runs surrounded by natural beauty, I spend the time feeling grateful for the way my legs shift from lumbering awkwardly into comfortable and natural strides. The spiritual bliss sustained by deep breaths and heat flushing over my body releases my ego and helps me let go of to-do lists. As much as I spend my life feeling grateful and noticing the deeper truths and meaning to life, I also ruminate in my head feeling overwhelmed all too often. My lack of attention (ADD) and anxiety often make minuscule routines and tasks seem insurmountable to me, which is quite selfish I've decided but it is who I am. Running forces me to me focus on my authentic life experiences as I give in to the effort of my body. Its like there isn't room in my head for the pounding heartbeat and the overwhelming thoughts, so I get to let go of the futile frets that plague me for a while.
On this year's birthday run, I found myself reflecting on the usual spiritual releases, but more than anything I thought about the special visit we had the day before with my dear friend Danielle, her nephew and his family. Dani is a dear friend from college whose glamorous-to-me New York City life coupled with her jet-setting fancy travels abroad are only outmatched by her down-to-earth charm, joy for life and witty kindness. I love her and it was so special to get just a couple hours with her.
She was close to us, over in Maryland, visiting her nephew (who is near to our age), Ryan, an Army officer, who graduated from a pilot school through the Naval Academy. I have been familiar with his story -- he and his wife, Kate, have two children. Their oldest Mary is close to Anna Cate's age, and she was diagnosed early with Spinal Muscular Atrophy and the level of care she requires is something which seems actually overwhelming, unlike my trivial worries. She eats through a feeding tube but when we sat down to enjoy the picnic lunch Dani had set out for us, Ryan placed Mary's chair across from Anna Cate and made her a sandwich cut in a heart shape. He got up three times since she wanted more shredded cheese and twice to let her get a different colored straw. Mary didn't eat or drink but sat at table with us as she and Anna Cate talked about Disney shows, swimming and Mary's summer camp experience where she got to swing. Afterwards we sat outside, and Mary wanted to sit in her Dad's lap so that Anna Cate could sit next to her in the rocking chair.
Dani later told me that every month of Mary's life, they celebrate with a cake. It reminds me of the Bible verse, "Man does not live by bread alone..." Matthew 4:4. On my run, this special time I carved out for my own celebration of life, I relived the blessing to witness such love and appreciation for life, such devotion as a parent. The care and service provided to Mary is almost as beautiful as her sweet spirit.
How many times do I get annoyed when my girls ask for a different spoon, a different cup or a different color straw?! Here, in the midst of my feeling like my kids are super needy and that whatever I do is never enough, I felt honored to witness such pure devotion and joy for taking care of a child, a precious gift.
When I returned from my run, I found BJ and the girls waiting for me with orange scones they picked up from Panerra, which taste exactly like my Grandmother's orange chiffon cake. BJ and the girls dug out some candles and when I walked in the door, Molly said we are going to sing Happy Birthday and celebrate you, "so let's get started."
So my take-away from my 37th birthday is noticing the beauty in service and celebration.
“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”
― Kahlil Gibran