thoughts on turning 57

How does one celebrate a 57th birthday? By painting one wall orange, of course.
"Go practice. Be happy." That's what the monk in Chicago told me to do. This wall makes me happy. My birthday makes me happy. For the first time in years, I really feel like celebrating this day.

I'm coming to the end of a long transitional time, I can feel it. I'm entering -- have been entering -- a new place; a new place in my work, a new place with family, a new place with friendships, a new place in my lovely new marriage, a new place within myself. This place is grounded. Centered. Known. How I have missed it.

I am coming home to myself.


Not because the monk gave me an apple -- I think of that gift as a sign of the near-end of this transition, which has been going on since the year I turned 50.

The year I turned 50, both my parents died, my long-years married were over, I began to redefine what family meant to me, I embraced change, sold the home I'd lived in for 25 years, watched my youngest graduate from high school, and moved to Atlanta, to begin a new life in a new city, with a new love, and new work to do.

I was just finishing Each Little Bird That Sings. I was unprepared for the amazing reception this book received. I had written a novel about loss and grief, and had come out the other side of this book with a new appreciation of the fact that we can't have what gives us great joy without experiencing great sorrow somewhere along the way. We can't have up without down, yes without no, in without out... red and yellow without orange. :>
 As Uncle Edisto says in Each Little Bird That Sings, "Open your arms to life! Let it strut into your heart with all its messy glory!" Yes. This is what I needed to learn. For the past several years, I've been trying to do just that.

But it scared me, moving to this new, unknown place, as a woman who had lost so much; as a woman who had been given so much, as well. Who was this woman? I felt I had lost my identity. So I struggled. And sometimes I triumphed. So many wonderful, pivotal, beautiful things happened in the last seven years. So many challenging things as well.

And then I wrote Countdown. Talk about opening your arms to life. Talk about messy glory --

I entered a time warp that took me back to living in my parents' home, to being a daughter and a sister and a neighbor to good friends. A student to good teachers. A wanderer of the world, and a chronicler of its mysteries. I discovered how much I missed my family, and how luscious my life had been as a young girl growing up.

How difficult, too.

I discovered how to love what was hard to love. I discovered how to mourn, and how to celebrate. I understood how loved I had been, and how much I had loved.


Countdown gave me back my family.

Today I have the distinct feeling that they are with me, wherever I go, whatever I do, this family I grew up within. Those days are precious to me. And I have preserved them, not just as they were, because this is a work of fiction, but I have preserved that time and place, and those people, and have called them sacred.

And here's the surprise: Somewhere along the way, little by little, I vanquished my fear. As I wrote Countdown and walked hand-in-hand with that time warp, I began to get in touch with myself again, to hear my own voice, to remember that young girl who left home at 18, that young mother, that long-married woman, that emerging writer, that good daughter, sister, mother, wife, writer... that good person who was oh-so-fallible, but oh-so-earnest and oh-so-determined to change the world, to give the world to her children, and to give what she could to her stories.
I feel like celebrating this year.  I know who I am.  Isn't this a joyful way to begin?

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PeeEss: I'm extending the deadline for commenting ("Yo!" is fine) on this post, in order to receive an iTunes iMix of all the songs from Countdown. June 1 is the new deadline. I know y'all are used to commenting personally, and that lots and lots of you have commented to my email address, but I can't use the random number generator there -- I need one place to pull from.  So... given that situation, and about mail in general...

I love your email. I love our conversations. Would you mind moving them to the comments section of the blog (or facebook, depending on how you read One Pom)? It would be easier to keep up with, and preserve, and I want so much for y'all to get to know one another -- you have such fabulous, insightful, generous and gracious things to say. And you are so smart. Please share with all of us. xoxoxo Debbie

9 comments:

  1. Happy Happy Birthday! What a great post and what a great way to begin a new year! Thanks for sharing:-)

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  2. Thank you, Franki. And thanks so much for your amazing, generous words about Countdown. Scholastic sent them to me recently, and I was bowled over. I am looking forward to this new year!

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  3. Fifty-seven years? Lucky lady! Congratulations on this celebration of life -- of the good work you've done, the stories you've shared, and the wisdom and honesty you've gifted us with over the years. May it return to you in triplicate (as well as in the form of an orange wall)!!

    Happy happy birthday, dear friend! -- Nancy

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  4. Thank you, Nancy, dear one. It is always a treat (and a birthday present, at that!) to hear from you. xo

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  5. Happy Birthday Debbie,
    And you KNOW I love the new orange wall. Embrace the vibrant!
    Hugs,
    e

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  6. Embrace the vibrant? I adore that! It's something you are so good at, e. Thanks for the reminder. xoxoxo

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  7. Jane Resh Thomas once told me, "Understanding clears obstacles." Author Marianne Williamson says, “Love is what we were born with. Fear is what we have learned here. The spiritual journey (and I would add the writing journey) is the relinquishment—or unlearning—of fear and the acceptance of love back into our hearts.”

    Happy Birthday, Deborah. It sounds as though you have given yourself the greatest gift of all.

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  8. Happy Birthday---fabulous blogpost---and congrats on the response to Countdown---just got it from diane at little shop this week---can't wait to sink into it---debmiller

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  9. Danette... Jane is big on understanding. I like that about her. :> Love the Marianne Williamson quote. That's what I was trying to say, and look at how she said it in so few words.

    Thanks, Deb, for the birthday wishes, and for visiting Diane and purchasing Countdown! Hope you love Franny's story. Sometime... coffee!

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