Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions:
it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.
~ Aldous Huxley
We’re dining on ginger beef and cod in black bean sauce, flavored with catch-up chat. My friend Kathy, leans toward me and says, “I think you’re just about to have an important birthday. Yes?”
I tell her my age and, excited now, she says: “I thought so. Why don’t I organize a party to celebrate your milestone?”
Milestone? The word was coined for the stone obelisks placed by those great builders, the Romans, to mark distances along the many roads branching out from Rome.
age-worn stone the emperor’s name unreadable
“If you set up a milestone gathering, have a good time and say hello to everyone for me,” I reply.
“What – you wouldn’t want to celebrate with your friends?” she asks.
“It’s the idea that I’ve done something extraordinary to reach my present age, like conquering a new territory, and thus deserve a tribute where I parade my army, plunder, and slaves through streets lined with cheering citizens. A milestone party would invite congratulatory comments like ‘You’ve made it to a magic age,” lead to questions like ‘What’s on your bucket list – going sky diving?”
“Do you mean you think they’d not be sincere?” she asks.
“When I look at someone my age, even when they’re still mentally and physically active, I feel a sadness about their diminishment. On my last hiking trip, a middle-aged companion said, ‘Ray, I sure hope I can be as active as you when I’m your age.’ Tongue in cheek, and secretly irritated, I replied, “I’m confused. I’m only 35.” I knew it was intended as a compliment, but I was thinking, There are downsides to reaching my age, the small infirmities that, like weathered milestones, ruthlessly mark diminishment’s path.
“Okay,” she replies, “no milestone-theme party, but I’d like to do something.”
“Agreed. I’d enjoy a gathering celebrating everyone, each person who wants sharing what’s going on in their own lives”
my winter is just this – a pair of goldfinches still visiting the feeder*
“You’d not want any comments on your birthday?” she asks.
“If people feel they must say something, I’d prefer honesty, preferably with humor, like Hal’s greeting the other day when I met him for coffee: ‘Damn, but you look grizzled, shaggy white beard, wild hair. Looks like you’ve been in a wind storm.’”
She laughs. “I’ll bet it was you looking in the mirror talking to yourself.”
You’re right, I looked and said: “I’m happy to be here and yet I feel guilty about having my cosmic dice roll so many 7s.”
awaiting cremation – birthday cards line the fireplace mantel
Published in Presence, 2020.
* The second haiku is after after Issa’s: my spring is just this – / a single bamboo shoot / a willow branch