Birthdays take on a whole other hue as more of them accumulate, going from the festive strawberry pink of childhood to a decidedly deeper, if not mournful, shade of violet--that l'heure bleu color that is pensive, melancholy and presages nightfall. When I entered the last year of my fifth decade a week or so ago, I found a different tinge to the darkness that a winter birthday carries, a brightening that isn't just a trick of the light.
There are terrible sorrows that come with increasing years. One of my brothers-in-law, a man of such vibrancy that often you wished that he came equipped with volume control, died this week at fifty-one. My mother is slipping into a haze of nightmares that give her sleep without rest and turn her waking hours into a half-life. When she dies, I will be the oldest in the family I was born into and the family I married into--and never divorced, even when a judge pronounced my marriage irretrievably broken.
But with the sadness comes a joyful freedom that I never had in my pre-wrinkled years. My sons are men who are delightful, funny and smart, whose company I love. My book, Tone Deaf in Bangkok, will be published by ThingsAsian Press within the coming year, and the money that I was given for it will take me back home to Bangkok next summer. These are all things that I could only dream of, and hope for, when I was young.
A friend, who is older than I by a whisper of time, recently returned from a year of volunteering her skills as a nurse in Africa and India. When she came to my door recently, I was stunned by her transformation. Always a striking woman, she has become beautiful--slender, sparkling, with life glowing in her eyes. This is what happens, I realize, when we refuse to falter, when we trade the gleaming pink of a sunrise for the violet depth of twilight without retreating to the safety of pulling the covers over our heads, when we step out into what appears to be darkness and find that it is illuminated by our own internal light.