An Introvert Turns 61
Funny what pops into your head at 3:14 am on a Monday, 2,445 miles from home and 11,000 miles into a five-month coddiwomple.
I find myself thinking of Dave and Sue Hausman, proud owners of Big Dave’s Bagels, and their supreme whole wheat sesame bagels. They are twice the size and three times as good as anything else in the Mount Washington Valley.
I find myself hankering for a toasted bagel plain and another stuffed with veggies, with mustard as the spread.
Dave and Sue are open at six every morning, and I’ve just learned that no one in Bend opens before seven.
Samwise woke me up an hour ago. We’re in a hotel in Bend, Oregon. The windows don’t open more than two inches behind heavy curtains, and the air conditioner is not working. His panting had the three of us strolling the empty streets to cool off. On our tramp, we walked up to the sole surviving Blockbuster store. A bit of history that speaks to how our world has changed.
Four days ago, we were also awake at this hour. Our Neskowin rental was perfect—no air circulation problems making it feel like a tomb there. We slept with the bedroom window open to inhale the salty soul of the Pacific Ocean.
I turned 61 that day, and I had a plan.
Due to my upbringing and the scars left by a painfully indifferent family, I don’t celebrate so much as reflect on my birthdays.
It’s an awkward day; the most painful of the year, and I avoid the usual trappings. I would rather the day slip by unaddressed by others. So I shut off the comments on all posts and hope to weather whatever comes my way. Being an introvert on social media doesn’t help. The comments may be closed, but strangers send birthday messages nevertheless.
Every year, one social media friend reaches out the day before my birthday and asks, “Any big plans?” Every year.
She knows me better than most I’ve never met but does not know me at all, for I tell her annually, “No, birthdays are not my thing.”
The longer our annual ritual of asking and answering goes, the sadder and more lonely her question makes me.
It reminds me that the only time I ever feel lonely, and that’s hardly ever, is when I am around others. Such is the introvert’s anthem.
What pleases me about my birthday is sharing it with a dear friend, and with the late John Muir.
The morning after our birthday, we reached out to each other, my friend, not John Muir and me. Both of us felt shell-shocked and wracked with the emptiness the day brought.
She did not turn off the comments on Facebook to the endless of “Happy Birthday!” greetings, not one those folks bothered calling, texting, or sending a card. Reading the comments always makes her feel anxious, the hollowness of them, and last week it gutted her.
I could relate. So we commiserated in our emotional hangovers
In The Hot Summer of Sixty-Seven, Thomas Merton wrote, “We are living in a society which for all its unquestionable advantages and all its fantastic ingenuity just does not seem to be able to provide people with lives that are fully human & real.”
And that was long before Kim Kardashian was even a glint in her parents’ eyes. Can you imagine what monkish Merton would think about our current state of the disconnection?
While I do my best to fly under the birthday radar and would rather be left alone. Privately, I embrace with pleasure of another year. It’s even more appreciated in the years since the stroke and kidney and heart failure.
On Thursday, with clouds obscuring the predawn stars, the three of us slipped out the door and padded down the sleeping streets of tiny, quaint Neskowin. We turned left on Breakers Boulevard and walked in the long shadows cast by yellow streetlights and porch lamps. Beyond a row of houses and condos, the ocean swelled and foamed. It gathered, rushed ashore in wave after wave, and made the most raucous music—the almost roar followed by, the receding sighs.
The sea chorus always makes me think of Rachel Carson’s passage from Silent Spring, "There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature—the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
It’s the reason I return to the solitude of the off-season Oregon Coast: the infinite healing in the repeated refrains…the assurance that days, seasons, and life begin anew.
The older I grow, the more I hold these truths to be sacred, and the more I cleave to nature in the spaces and hours where there is little to none of that human-made cacophonous busy-ness.
The beach was flat and smooth that morning. Neskowin Creek rushed out of the hills in a torrent after days of rain, and emptied with high waters into the ocean.
The evening before, during a break in the storm, we watched two seals frolicking in the creek before it curved around Proposal Rock.
Perhaps they were still there and watching as we stopped short of the waves, by the monadnock’s deeper-than night hulking shadow.
Emily and Samwise are perpetually aware of our surroundings. Samwise is keen about everything, in his sage and watchful ways. In contrast, Emily is a compressed spring, ready to Tigger or dance. Even in stillness, her eyes often reveal the potential to suddenly burst in zestful celebration. My friend was born to bounce.
But at that early hour, before the villagers and visitors began to stir, my silent friends watched me closely. They sensed this was unique.
Off came the heavy fleece hoodie. My turtleneck joined it on my backpack. Fleece pants followed. Lastly, my Apple Watch joined the pile.
I stood before the roiling Pacific, sixty-one years of flesh and bone, memories and dreams, and nothing else. Well, that’s not true. I still wore my Teva sandals and the rare blue jade from the lapidarist hung from my neck.
Samwise leaned against my thigh. I reassured him. Emily’s ears cocked, her eyes searched mine.
“I’ll be right back,” I told them.
Samwise, ever the scout and guard, always life’s witness, sat in the damp sand where the tide had receded from minutes before. Emily, I knew, would follow me.
But this was not her time to play in the water, it was mine.
She waded by my side until it became too deep for her. Then she paddled.
I thought of rogue waves, of riptides, undertows, even undertoads, but I was compelled forth. The water splashed above my knees. Then my hips. Emily was swimming by my side, trying to keep contact with me. Every few seconds I felt one of her paws against my skin.
In her fierce love, Emily is loyalty defined. She would die with me.
Another step, and the outgoing tide pulled at my legs, the sand shifted beneath my sandals. Chest deep. Another step. Emily still there, head, alert ears, and curved monkey tail above the water.