Judith Katz wrote to us this weekend – from her living room overlooking the Beaverkill….
The pandemic has rewritten the rules and understanding of every aspect of our social experience. It has incisively gutted the institution of the Birthday Party Celebration. A gathering that formerly would have been held in a restaurant or home with multiple friends and family swept up in the fun and angst of that particular year. In my adult life I have cycled through it all: the mega gathering (minimum 50 plus participants) the select 8 friends scooped up at a favorite restaurant, the quiet dinner with me and my husband Mike.
So when my birthday rolled around this year on April 16th I had no plan or secret hope or wish that the day would be any different than the day before. We are currently hunkering down up in the Catskills in our weekend house that we have owned for the last twenty years. The area is beautiful in a stark unmanicured way. We live in a place of narrow valleys and wild rivers and very few inhabitants.
Our closest neighbors are Toby Poser and John Adams. A dynamic couple in their early fifties. I have known John since he was a maniac eight year old terrorizing me with frogs and snakes that he kept hidden in his shirt pocket. Toby is beautiful inside and out. And we share the same birthday.
John sent a text the night before. Mike and I were invited to come to the edge of our driveway at 2PM on Thursday the 16th. We accepted. John and Toby and their 15 year old daughter Zelda were standing at the bottom of their driveway. We were about twenty feet apart on different sides of the road. On our driveway was a large candle in a towering candle holder and the matching candle-candle holder at the base of their driveway. Placed in the middle of the road was a plate covered with a red and white checked cloth. At John’s instruction we all belted out an Ethel Merman worthy version of Happy Birthday. Toby and I bent towards one another with our fingers aching to connect just like on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. After the song and dance movements were completed we took turns going to the plate equidistant from our respective driveways to inhale the delicious home baked chocolate chip cookies made by Toby. By 2:07 the party was over.It was a heart expanding celebration worthy of a velvet rope – that is how precious and exclusive it was.
For years I have been neurotic about managing and celebrating my birthday. I have over thought it, tried to ignore it, planned huge celebrations which always went in an unimagined and fraught direction, and made efforts to go with the flow when truly speaking that was never in the cards for me. So this past Thursday was the balm the corrective I had always been unknowingly seeking. The joy and love that manifest on our driveways was undeniable. The experience of those electric seven minutes has not short circuited or receded. The spontaneity of the gathering in tandem with the lack of artifice wrapped in the horror of this time in history freed me to be in the moment. A moment that is enduring in it’s ability to sustain and buoy.