Hey everyone… thanks so much for all the kind birthday greetings and wishes both in person and virtually. I always say, and trust me, I do always say this… all that matters in life are the people (and dogs… yes, and cats for the cat people out there) we love and those who love us back. That’s it. Nothing else. Just our people and our big love. The stuff we have, the stressors of politics and the virus, and just those regular stressors that go with living life, are not really important in the grand scheme. When you get overwhelmed or sad or very upset about what’s going on in the world, no matter your politics, think of the faces of the people you love. Run them through your mind. Think of them smiling at you. Think of getting a hug from them, and what that feels like. You will be calmed.
September 17 wasn’t only my birthday, it was also the day, 10 years ago, I had my last push of chemo. That always makes me think, this time of year, about my experience. People often say I had such a great attitude during that ordeal. That I was smiling all the time, even when I could barely walk across the room. Even when I was scared out of my head. I’ll tell you a secret, my secret. And it isn’t really a secret at all. I smile so much in life because I have lots of reasons to smile. The quality of the people in my life is astounding to me. I have no idea how I got so lucky, but I won the lottery in the people department. My family and friends are incredible. What’s more, I know it, I feel it, and I appreciate every one of you. When I was sick I felt this invisible river of love flowing to me from all over. It was so strong I swear I could almost see it, if I looked just right… rivers of color, filled with love, flowing to me from so many directions, and then me willing it right back. That exchange of love was constant and beautiful. That exchange of love helped to save me. It held me. That exchange of love is always there. It was there before I was sick as well, and it’s been there since. Flowing to me, flowing out from me to others. It’s there for you. It’s tangible. It’s real. It sustains and lifts and strengthens and propels us forward. It’s what our lives are built on and around. It is the constant foundation for everything.
So my wish for my birthday is that each of you gets to feel that flow, that exchange, in big and small ways. That each of you can feel what I feel all the time, can see what I see all the time. Love is everywhere. It’s all around us. Those people we love and who love us, they are always there, smiling and holding us.
The truth is, I’ve never cared for the National Anthem. If you think about it, it’s not a good song. Too high for most of us with “the rockets red glare” and then there are the bombs. (Always, always, there is war and bombs.) Once, I sang it at homecoming and threw even the tenacious high school band off key. But the song didn’t mean anything, just a call to the field, something to get through before the pummeling of youth. And what of the stanzas we never sing, the third that mentions “no refuge could save the hireling and the slave”? Perhaps, the truth is, every song of this country has an unsung third stanza, something brutal snaking underneath us as we blindly sing the high notes with a beer sloshing in the stands hoping our team wins. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the flag, how it undulates in the wind like water, elemental, and best when it’s humbled, brought to its knees, clung to by someone who has lost everything, when it’s not a weapon, when it flickers, when it folds up so perfectly you can keep it until it’s needed, until you can love it again, until the song in your mouth feels like sustenance, a song where the notes are sung by even the ageless woods, the short-grass plains, the Red River Gorge, the fistful of land left unpoisoned, that song that’s our birthright, that’s sung in silence when it’s too hard to go on, that sounds like someone’s rough fingers weaving into another’s, that sounds like a match being lit in an endless cave, the song that says my bones are your bones, and your bones are my bones, and isn’t that enough?