August 17th is my favorite day of the year. I like it better than the 4th of July, which is easily my favorite national holiday. I like it better than Christmas. I like it better than every single other day on the entire calendar.
I was born on August 17th.
I was born exactly a week from my grandmother’s birthday. And one day after my grandaddy’s birthday, which also happens to be their wedding anniversary.
The whole week is typically one big fiesta in our family.
When I was younger, the entire family, grandparents, their children, and their grandchildren, would gather to celebrate. Over food and gifts, we’d swap stories and laugh and enjoy the company of our loved ones.
This week has been a little different. We’ve had so much going on, between hospital visits and cancer and summer ending and school beginning and all the other little things life can throw one’s way. The aunts and uncles and cousins are scattered around the country, in faraway places like Ohio and Utah and Missouri. Celebrations have slowed down, because life makes it harder to gather with gusto. This week, my mom cooked my grandmaw some crab cakes, one of her favorites, for her special day. And we’ll all go out this evening for supper to mark mine and my grandaddy’s birthdays. Then it’s back to the grind.
Because there has been less time to celebrate, I’ve been left with more time to reflect.
My grandmother turned eighty-six last week.
Sunday, after a family reunion, we visited her hometown and found her old house. I stood on the porch of the house in which my grandmother spent the first sixteen years of her life. Her diapers were changed and washed and hung to dry in that house. She played by the railroad tracks in the backyard. She and four of her brothers walked to the nearest town, a few miles away, and no one blinked an eye, because they didn’t worry about the darkness of the world like we must do today.
Seventy years ago, my grandmother was energetic and able and full of all the things youth lets one be. And I stood in the spot where all those things began.
She will die, soon, probably. The doctors say the cancer will take over by the end of this year. They don’t know this for sure, because no one can really know these things, but most likely, it will happen sooner rather than later. I find myself unable to process that. Too painful.
I stood where she ran and played and grew and really, truly, lived.
My grandfather turned eighty yesterday, the same day that marks their fifty-second anniversary. He is mostly blind and mostly deaf and forgets mostly everything. She is dying and he is alive but sometimes, when he’s lucid enough to see how old his body is, I think he wishes he weren’t. And fifty-two years ago, one year longer than my dad’s entire lifetime, they promised each other forever. And they meant it. It blows my mind over and over again, and reduces me to a puddle of tears every time I think of it. Fifty-two years of laughing and struggling and moving and traveling and working and fighting and loving. Fifty-two years and three children and son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws and grandchildren and step-grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.
Fifty-two years ago, they were young. They were poor and passionate and they made the promise of a lifetime and kept it.
I am twenty-three years old today. School is kicking my ass, and I’m always broke, and I’m nowhere close to any kind of commitment in love or career or life, and I live at home with my mom and I say that’s because I can’t afford anything else but really I still need her and always will. And my grandparents, my heroes, are dying.
And my heart is bursting because it’s all so painful and and it’s all so beautiful and I am so damn blessed.
I have been an up-close and personal witness to the examples those before me have set. I have been the lucky one who was born close enough to celebrate, right along next to them, the lifelong accomplishments they’ve made. To reap the benefits of their struggles. To receive the wisdom they’ve acquired after years of hard life lessons.
They’ve taught me that things which seem hopeless always get better, that I should always do my best because no one can ask any more of me, that family is absolutely the most important thing, and that there is love all around.
This week is sacred to me, and this day is my favorite. It’s not just my day. It’s an accumulation of all days past, and of the lives that helped to create my own. It’s my own personal celebration, not only of myself, but of those before me, those who love me, and those I love.