Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Musings around an Insignificant Birthday

So I turned 47 this year. It’s a kind of ho-hum birthday. And I don’t mean that in a bad way – it’s just one of those in betweens – not a milestone if you like. Earlier in the year, we celebrated the 100th birthday of Aunt “Mert” (or Ellen – don’t ask me). THAT is a milestone! More recently, we gathered to mark her passing – and while Mert will be sorely missed by us all, I count myself lucky in at least two ways, 1) to have known her, and 2) that I get to celebrate another birthday – every day is a gift.

We celebrated it in our traditional way – birthday celebrant gets to choose where we go for dinner to celebrate. This year I chose an old favorite haunt – The Breakfast King, noted in a restaurant award one year as “Best Place to Feel Like an Unpaid Extra in a Tarantino Film”. This is a great old fashioned dive (must check if it has featured on that Food Channel show about Dives). They have great green chile, plates of food that would satiate NFL linemen and my favorite for breakfast, made from scratch corn beef hash (which narrowly beats out the chicken fried steak). The setting alone (next to a seedy strip joint on Santa Fe, a busy road complete with a huge derelict rubber factory, partly demolished behind it) tells you it has to be good – would not have survived this long otherwise.

So why did I choose this for dinner you ask? Well Joy and I stopped in late one night (it’s a 24 hour dive as all the best ones are) and had coffee and pie – which was of course good. We figured one of these days we needed to check it out for dinner. That’s it – no other reason…

But I digress, birthday dinner, and not forgetting the usual enthusiasm of my girls seeing me enjoy opening their gifts which are always thoughtful is not what I initially set out to write about. I had three profound thoughts / experiences surrounding my birthday this year. You may disagree that they are profound – and that’s OK too – you probably wouldn’t choose the BREAKFAST King for birthday DINNER either…

My first thought concerned visiting the doctor. I don’t watch much television, but do enjoy the relatively new show, “Men of a Certain Age” – probably in part because I can relate to it. As an odd coincidence, even as I write this, Brian, a good friend of mine and I are communicating via Facebook chat to organize meeting for breakfast – our “Men of a Certain Age” breakfasts – if you watch the show you’ll know what I mean.

Anyway – as we have established, I am a man of a certain age and while I probably should have started going to the doctor for an annual checkup a year or two (maybe several) ago, I have been avoiding it (typical male… yada yada yada…). I have no particular reason why – my general health seems to be OK, but I guess like many, I’d just as sooner not know if there is something dreadfully wrong – makes no sense at all I know but hey – that’s the way some of us are wired. My dad got onto me a bit this year, having suffered a stroke himself last year – I don’t know if that’s what finally the tipping point was, but I went. And it turns out I have a clean bill of health – in fact – other than my knees and back, most of me is OK for my age – maybe even holding back a year or two.

What was profound to me about this was the amazing sense of relief – or perhaps in a sensory fashion, a great weight was lifted off me. It just felt some incredibly damn good to hear the doc say the words (both in the office, and a week or so later when various lab results came back). It reminded me of the feeling I’ve experienced over and over again with Jesus – just as He says to the woman of poor reputation in Luke’s account of Jesus, “I forgive you sins”, and “Your faith has saved you, go in peace”. Perhaps the most overwhelming sense of freedom has come when at various points, guilt which like an unknown disease holds you back, is recognized for what it is – a big fat lie, and is washed away forever. Forgiveness in Jesus is complete! You don’t have to hang out in the shadows, ashamed of you past – or in some cases, wondering if because of the guilt trip others put on you, you are supposed to be ashamed.

This is grace, fitting perhaps having just celebrated the anniversary of the reformation.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
(Romans 8:1, The Message)

My second thought came early on the morning of my birthday. We got our first snowstorm of the year and about the only think that lived up to the hype was that it was a wet heavy snow – somewhat uncharacteristic of the light fluffy powder we so often enjoy in the Rocky Mountains. And although we didn’t get much in terms of snow fall or accumulation, the early season combination of many trees still with leaves and the weight of snow trapped on the branches by those leaves resulted in a lot of power outages in the Denver area.

My musings however came about as a result of comments on the seemingly endless weather updates on the morning news advising to take a broom or something and shake / brush off – whatever really to cause the accumulating snow on tree limbs to fall and prevent the branch from breaking. It occurred to me that this is nature’s way – and like so many other things, we just can’t help ourselves and we have to mess with it. Now I’m not saying you shouldn’t act to prevent your power supply being cut (although those branches are probably out of reach for most of us), but we have learned that many natural disasters are very important to the eco-system. They clean it out – get rid of old, possibly dead or at best dying stuff, which makes way for new.

As it turned out, I had a foot in both camps. I looked at and left alone some limbs on the pine trees out front of my house drooping to the ground under the heavy load and was surprised that they survived. But we have a plum tree out the back which I pruned moderately last winter. It is perhaps more fragile than the pines and looked also like failure was imminent. I quite like that tree – both for its beauty and the shade it affords me on our back deck, so I used a broom to lightly shake several limbs and release quite a pile of snow.

What I don’t know – and now never will, was whether nature felt a need to thin that tree, of just like my muscles in my infrequent trips to the gym, having perhaps survived the load, the branches and tree would in fact be stronger? I wrote recently about how we often try to shelter and protect our children from hurts, both physical and emotional.

Sometimes Holding Them Has to be Enough

That was a tough week – thinking about it still tears me up some, but you know what? My daughter is a stronger person because of what she went through. I’ll take the liberty of sharing her view of it bittersweet.

that happened to me today. only, it all kind of happened at once. I walked away from something important in my life, and it began to rain. but the sun was shining. -Mallory Paige

Oddly, the third thing that impacted me ties both medical visits and my daughter together. Given the snows and general poor conditions out on my actual birthday, after dropping my younger daughter to school with only one minor slip (lesson 1 – don’t downshift hard in a rear wheel drive sports car on snow – but no harm, no foul) I retired to the warmth and comfort of our house purposing to work from the very desk I am now writing. An hour or so passed and I got a call – Mallory was clearly in pain – there’s no mistaking that sound in your child’s voice and it kills you every time. She had spent some time the night before volunteering at a Habitat for Humanity pumpkin patch, which included lugging a lot of pumpkins around. She is tall, and may have inherited some of my structurally imperfect back and to her utter confusion, in the act of standing up to take a paper to the teacher, suffered painful and debilitating back spasms.

As you do when that happens, you drop everything. You become singularly focused on one thing and one thing only – doing whatever it takes to take care of your kid. It was not how I would have ever envisioned spending my 47th birthday. But after we had done some rounds getting x-rays, doctors thorough examination (including a really thorough and patient discussion on the whole situation) and some muscle relaxing medication, it occurred to me that although she was hurting and not her usual chipper self, I was still blessed to spend a good part of my day attending to her and in her company. Of course I am happy to report that a day or two later, everything was back to normal.

I didn't really have a thought on this last item - just a fitting way to close out my birthday week. Dinner date with my bride including a very enjoyable beer - Yeti Oak Aged, from Great Divide. Sláinte...