THE SPOTLIGHT

Birthday cards on the piano

What’s wrong with me?

Inside me, joy, love and sadness share a space so tight they’re all tangled. The way they were yesterday.

I’m a July baby, and my birthday fell on a Saturday this year. I don’t know whether you have specific traditions surrounding yours, but a weekend birthday is different, I think.

On the one hand, it’s probably a little less busy on the social media front, because people are not as close to their phones on a beautiful summer Saturday. But on the other, because it’s the weekend, people are free to be with you, and to make plans without feeling harried.

What happens then is that rather than being spread out over several weekdays—a coffee or drink with a friend on Monday, breakfast with your mum on Wednesday, dinner out en famille on Friday—everything becomes focused on that one day. Your friends and loved ones are free. They’ve had time to conspire. They’ve planned.

I was the very fortunate focus of this embracing attention this year.

When I was a child, my birthday experiences were very different. It was summer vacation for everyone, so I had few birthday parties with balloons, hyper excited neighbourhood friends or classmates, games and cake with super-sweet icing. School was out. It wasn’t easy to reach classmates and usually, we were away on family vacation. Mostly in the Maritimes, but almost always away and sometimes even in the car all that day—traveling.

This year, things began the night before, with a terrific supper at a local bistro and a terrible two-hundred-million-dollar movie at the Cineplex with my son Simon and friend Cindy. We dined, drank wine, and laughed like mad at the movie’s end (shame on you, Luc Besson !).

Waiting with Penelope and Graeme for everyone to arrive at the party.

Yesterday was B-Day. It started off under a GORGEOUS, glittering blue sky (it deserves the uppercase letters: such days have been so infrequent in Montreal this summer), and breakfast in a new pub a few kilometers west of here. Simon picked me up and whisked me away.  We were joined by my dearest friend, Louise, who drove all the way from her country house—where her husband was still sound asleep—to be with us.

(You likely already see where this is going. It’s a tale of kind, generous people being their usual, exceptional selves.)

In the afternoon, I was expected at Jeremy’s (Simon’s twin) and Anne’s, to be with them and my grandchildren, Penelope and Graeme, and to be joined not long after by my mum and her partner and finally, by Simon and my sister Danielle.

And that’s when I started to feel an internal wobbliness that makes no sense.

It has to do with the number of times someone said: It’s Grand-maman’s birthday, to my grandchildren, and It’s your birthday! to me. It’s about a pressure building around that, and how I wished I could stand up and send a giant wave their way, filled with all of the love and gratitude and bliss I feel having them in my life: enough so that none of the fanfare would ever be necessary. The being together? Yes, oh yes, most certainly, but not the rest—not the spotlight.

Wating for Christian’s Facebook video message with Penelope and Graeme (all photos taken by Danielle Payette)

With that spotlight following me, I flounder. I’m not meant for it. The sadness in me floats up with the love and joy. It’s so strange. Opening boxes and boxes of extremely generous and thoughtful gifts with the help of Penelope and Graeme’s paper-ripping skills…It’s all so much. There’s no reciprocation possible.

Then it was dinner at the big table that fits everyone. Burgers, delicious salads (thank you dear Anne), chips, condiments galore, wine and laughter. Penelope and Graeme suddenly becoming a comedy act.

An experience of communion.

 

Passing the phone around

And finally, there was Christian, live and in colour, brought to us on my IPhone all the way from Milne Inlet in Northern Baffin Island, three thousand miles away from home for the next three months; due North, in the Canadian Arctic, in the same time zone as us ( ! ); his face the size of my phone’s small screen, missing us, looking, looking, looking and feeling outside of it all, looking for the love on our faces.

And suddenly all of our attention was on the miracle of that phone and the person it was bringing to us. And the phone passed from hand to hand, each of us asking questions in the noisy room where the rest of us chattered as we eavesdropped.

And then it ended up in my hand, and I turned and held it up over my head so that everyone at the big table could catch a glimpse of Christian while he first answered my maternal questions, then told us stories of his first days there, and then just took questions from everyone and made us laugh, and made us feel connected.

Christian speaking to the gallery.

As the signal weakened, we all said our goodbyes and see-you-soons. And then it was bath time for the kids, and time to kiss, hug, and say goodbye.

And my wobbliness was gone.

Photo by Danielle Payette

 

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “THE SPOTLIGHT

  1. I certainly sensed your ambivalence right from the get go and was ready to offer some therapeutic touch, but figured that eventually the unfiltered, unlimited, unconditional love of your grandchildren would knock you sideways. I share your shock and awe at all the pageantry. I hated my own wedding because I detest being the centre of attention. Ridiculous. You are a product of your upbringing; all three of us have a self-sabotaging habit of not knowing how to accept adoration and gifts. We always feel the need to even the playing field by “reciprocating in kind.” What I have learned over time is that generosity flows in both directions – the giver must be allowed to give freely, and the receiver must be able to receive joyfully. Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier, but it’s step one … 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “It’s all so much. There’s no reciprocation possible.”
    Sounds like your entire day was an expression of reciprocation – your loved ones reflecting back to you their appreciation of all you are, of all you do, of all you mean to them. If it felt generous and loving, it’s your own generous love boomeranging right back at ya! Delicious! xxx

    Like

  3. Pingback: POWERLESS | REEF

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