Muddling along on Caye Caulker, I woke up this morning and lay face to face with my sixty-ninth birthday. I don’t do much about birthdays. I have never been bothered by the decade years–you know what I mean, the “Oh my God, I’m forty” or “Oh, my God, I’m sixty” thing. Today is a beautiful day, with a clear sky and a soft breeze off the ocean. And it has started perfectly. I slipped out on the porch as Mary Ann finished sleeping and the sun finished rising, and sat in the cool air and listened to the mourning doves calling. The yellow-orange blossoms of the oleander moved in the the breeze. An oriole fluttered around in the leaves, flashing its yellow and orange feathers. An old Belizean man, his head wrapped in a white bandana, rode by on a bicycle and waved hello. The long fronds of the palm trees across the street waved slowly above clusters of coconuts. Frigate birds patrolled the air above.
When Mary Ann got up, we walked down to the dock for some quiet yoga. The dock was ours, as it is every morning. The peace of the wavelets slapping against the piers, broken by the occasional whine of a small boat headed out into the bay. A pelican or two gliding across the surface of the water. The two of us moving slowly through our sun salutations. A dozen sailboats rocking gently, moored in the bay, aligned with their noses into the wind.
A half hour later, our joints and muscles loose and warm, and our hearts and minds relaxed, we headed out for a birthday breakfast at a new little French cafe right on the beach, just around the corner from our cabana. They make their own jam, sweet and a little spicy, on toasted french bread. Strong coffee. Fresh orange juice and pineapple juice.
Now I’m back on the porch. Happy. Waiting for the day to come to me.
Back to those first waking moments this morning. As I lay there in the cabana, watching the ceiling fan turn lazily, listening to the mourning doves calling back and forth outside the window, the question did cross my mind, What have I done in sixty-nine years? But I tossed that useless question and replaced it with, How have I lived my life? Who have I been? The questions that really matter. Much too big to answer here. Maybe later.
Aside from the obvious things that give life meaning–my wife, my kids, my faith, my friends (all of which give deep and true meaning to life)–the thing I felt intense gratitude for at that moment was the students who became part of me over the 35 years I taught at the college. Someday I’ll write an open letter to them all, because it will take a while to explain how it is they who make it possible to look back on a life that has no grand accomplishments and to feel a deep sense of satisfaction, a sense of having spent those years on something worthwhile. And so . . . for now . . .
Being this age, on this day, at this moment, in this place, with my heart beating and the air sweet in my lungs, content, and a day spread out in front of me that holds . . . what? It’s enough.