Saturday, July 13, 2013

An Island Paradise

It was my birthday last week. It is the one day of the year I demand to be alone. Birthday celebrations are private affairs, I say, one for reflection and appreciating the gifts of life. It is also one where the whole day should be spent focusing on the celebrant: their needs, their wants and intentions for the coming year. This, I believe, can only be done when alone. When with friends or family the feelings of others have to be taken into account—the righteous self centredness of anniversaries gets lost when part of a community. I have no problem with this for 364 days of the year—interdependence is a concept I wholeheartedly support — but on my birthday I want it to be about me. It’s like that old Leslie Gore song: It’s My Party. If I want to cry (or sing or dance or hide under a blanket) on my birthday I will do so and to hell with everyone else. 

I haven’t always felt this way. It’s only been the last few years that this opinion has held sway and really only solidified when I reached fifty. The idea was borne upon my codependent past: I finally grew tired of being externally focused. And, as all pendulum swings go, I let this perspective reach its maximum height on one day of the year: my birthday. 

My birthdays are a delightful affair of hiking, reflection and napping in the sun by a mountain stream; followed, of course, by some delightful desert (in solitude) at some comfy cafe. I ask no one how they feel, don’t answer the phone and avoid emails. For one day of the year, I am my own island paradise. Until this year.

I thought I had prepared for this day of solitude. I told friends and family that I would not answer the phone. I took the day off work, completed all household chores the day before, and made sure all vitals had been bought for a day’s romp in the woods. But as they say, the best laid plans ….

It started off with several phone calls from people I forgot to tell. I let them go to voice mail while making mental notes to call them the next day.  Then I got an email for a short editing job. I thought about ignoring it but then figured it wouldn’t take long and finished it in less than five. Then, as I was finally leaving my apartment, I bumped into a neighbour with chronic physical complaints. I realized she just needed to vent so I walked with her for a block and then bade her farewell. Finally, one more phone call arrived. Call display revealed a long time friend who always, and I mean always, forgets my birthday. What could I do? 

The funny thing is that I resented none of these “intrusions”. I kept waiting for some irritation to arise, or at least some internal sighing but my mood was pleasantly benign if not amused. It was only when I started hiking did I realize the lesson I had been gifted. 

Paradise is not about keeping the world at bay. Sure, one must have boundaries and good self care but we are not islands unto our self. I cannot hide away and erect impenetrable walls while imagining this is the only way to celebrate me. Sure I am a private person but I live and work and play with others; I am part of an intertwined web that compliments and supports who I am. And while it doesn’t mean I will stop my practice of birthday solitude I will not be so hyper alert to intrusions next year.  To paraphrase Paul Simon, to be an island we touch no one and no one touches us. My heart has no wish to be this island.

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window
To the streets below
On a freshly fallen, silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island
I’ve built walls
A fortress, steep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship
Friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock
I am an island
Don’t talk of love
Well, I’ve heard the words before
It’s sleeping in my memory
And I won’t disturb the slumber
Of feelings that have died
If I never loved, I never would have cried
I am a rock
I am an island
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
I am a rock
I am an island
And a rock feels no pain
And an island never cries
 Paul Simon

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