I prayed for days that it would be sunny on my birthday. It was the only thing I wanted. My plan was to get in the car and drive west or north and hike by myself in a state park somewhere. I do a lot of walking but I’ve never hiked alone in the woods. I thought it was time.
But the day had other things that required tending so a walk along the lakefront would be my hike, leaving the real hike alone in the forest something for my next birthday, a watershed birthday, 70.
My back hurts from having lost a terrible battle with ivy roots in the way back of my yard where, every year by mid-summer, the vines and weeds collect up in impenetrable piles. This year has not started well; though I succeeded, I am paying a stiff price. The pain in my back means that I walk slow with my hands in my pockets.
I am right away depressed. Oh, I think, some mornings I just wake up worried, like I am moments away from weeping, and I start to hope that this isn’t one of those mornings. I suspect it is, though, and I am already disappointed that my birthday will be ruined because of this nameless thing.
Lake Michigan glimmers but, along the break wall, debris gathers. Plastic bags, a bloated squirrel, a large shoe floating upside down. This saddens me more and I give in to the bad luck of today being one of my waking up worried days. Here I am, after all, beside this beautiful lake and what I see are the dead things.
I decide to miss my mother. I think about her face, how I wish I could touch her face. I miss my mother, I say almost out loud, and then I start to cry just a little. A young woman with thick powerful legs runs past me. I am an old woman in jeans and an old sweater, walking slow with my hands in my pockets.
I stop to take a picture of the moorings where large ships sometimes tie up.
I brighten because of the sun on the water but it is fleeting. The pain in my back spreads and I feel off-kilter. Am I limping? The strong-legged girl runs toward me, having made the loop at the end of the park. She doesn’t look at me or nod hello. She looks straight ahead and keeps her pace and so do I. I don’t envy her even though I probably should. I had my chance.
I turn around short of the end point because I see a gaggle of people up ahead and I want to avoid them. I don’t want to step around anyone or say excuse me. When I turn I see a new park bench and on the bench there is a plaque of dedication that says “Share and Share Alike” in memory of a mother of nine children. And next to the plaque was painted “Amen.” Yes, indeed, Amen to that. Will they remove that someday? Maybe they started to but thought better of it. Why erase affirmation?
I decide that I am lucky to have seen the bench and the plaque and the affirmation and then I see the tree I have been waiting for, the right tree at the right time. It looked as if placed in my way as a present so I decide to think of it that way. I take a picture looking up at its branches against the bluest sky and I say thank you for celebrating my birthday with me in this extraordinary way. And then I say again, Amen.