Tuesday, August 13, 2019

50: What a long strange trip it's been

Our friend Pat used to say that the day of your birthday has magic in it, and I love this idea.

Today is my magical day, the start of my 50th year on this planet.

To start as you mean to go on, I'm wearing Lord Ganesha, patron of the arts. I feel hopeful and purposeful for my upcoming year.

It's taken me a long time to get here, and here I am.

Two years ago, when I turned 48, I was, quite honestly, in crisis. That year, we lost three people I loved, including Pat, who I viewed as my second mother. I ate all my feelings. I gained 20 pounds.

When my birthday rolled around that year, all I could think was, "Oh, god. This means I'm going to be 50 in two years."

I couldn't tell you what 50 meant. But it wasn't good. It was scary.

I was in a panic. And in this panic, I cooked up a plan. I wanted to do something big. I'd go to India, my birthplace.

And you know what? I did.

My friends Leigh and Wendy met me there. We traveled for over two weeks. I got back last week.

I saw friends I hadn't seen since 1987. I met spouses. We spent a weekend with friends in Kathmandu, and my friend Rajeev's lovely wife shared her birthday celebration with me. She even got me a cake.

In Delhi we stayed at the Claridges Hotel, where we used to go to the piano bar. We couldn't figure out where the piano bar used to be, but the hotel is still lovely and hospitable. Wendy and I visited our school. We went to some of the markets we used to go to.

It was an extraordinary trip. I have so many things to say about it, more than will fit here.

But it was a sort of homegoing, since Delhi is not just my birthplace but also where I spent my most important teenage years.

And over the years, the decades, I spent a great deal of time intermittently longing for Delhi, but from this vantage point I know that what I yearned for was not the city but the security of being who I was, in a childhood home in a tight, supportive community.

The worse I felt about myself in any given point in life, the more I romanticized my high school years.

When I was flying home, I wound up in conversation with a few fellow travelers. All younger than me, and all of whom called me ma'am.

I sat next to a young Sikh musician on my flight from Delhi to Dubai. I told him about my 50th birthday trip. I mentioned my daughter, who is 7. He told me that he was 25, and that his parents were 48. And that he hopes to get married next year and start a family.

He said people have kids younger in India. I told him I was at the old end of the spectrum in the United States.

I could be his parent, and with what he was saying, I could've felt old. But I mostly just felt glad to be where I am, and to have the kids I do.

And going back, and visiting old haunts, and seeing our school, and letting memories wash over me, I realized that I can love Delhi for the part it played in my life. I can be frustrated with Delhi for the pollution, which is truly brutal, and the relentlessness of tuk tuk drivers and hawkers and people who just want to chat because you're some random Western woman walking alone down the street.

India is the most charming and the most difficult of everything, all rolled together.

I can love it as my birthplace, and appreciate it as my home during some of my most important years. But the longing, the ache? When I look for it, I realize it's gone.

Because finally, I realize I'm good with who I am and where I am.

Maude told me that the lead-up to 50 was hard. And then she was there, and it was great. And that's how I feel. It's here and it's great.

Here's to my half century on the planet. I'm delighted to be here, and I feel lucky lucky we're here together.

And I'm looking forward to the next half.