Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Luckiest: Of Birthdays and Pumpkin Pies

My birthday - September 28th - two years ago was one of the most depressing days of my life. Mark and I had gone to Portland to visit his family and had left that morning for home. We drove all day, starting near Portland, and ended up in a dumpy motel in Baker City, Oregon. Throughout the day, I kept hoping that I would hear from one of my children; but as the day wore on, my phone never rang, I received no text, and there was no Facebook message or email to wish me a happy birthday.

I didn't think I could have felt any lower when we pulled into Baker that evening, but when I saw our motel room, I felt even worse. That's when I lost it and cried like a baby while Mark held me. Later, we went out for dinner at a restaurant there in Baker, a place where I felt every eye in the place upon us, a gay couple. It was a place that looked like it was frequented by men in cowboy hats. Mark had hoped I would feel better after going for dinner. But it didn't work. As we walked back to the truck, I felt anxious, fearing that  group of men in the restaurant would follow and attack us because we were (and are) gay.

We drove back to the hotel and got ready for bed. It was then that Mark came around the corner from the bathroom, holding a pumpkin pie with lit candles, singing "Happy Birthday" in his best Marilyn Monroe imitation (think of her singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy, but she was wearing clothes). By way of explanation, I had told Mark that, for many years, we had celebrated my birthday with a pumpkin pie because we always had cake on my oldest daughter's birthday which was only four days before mine. It was a moment I will never forget as long as I live. His simple act of love and thoughtfulness salved my wounded heart.

Fast forward two years, to yesterday. It was another birthday I will never forget. What a contrast to two years ago! I heard from most of my children, receiving warm expressions of love and wishes for happiness. In particular, I was able to FaceTime with my daughter, Rachel, who is three weeks into a new job working as a nanny on the east coast. In the course of our conversation, she told me that she had published a post on her blog as a birthday present to me. 

I'd like to quote a few parts of that post here, but first I need to explain that Rachel and I hadn't really talked (at Rachel's request) for over two years, until this past June, when a fortuitous conversation arranged by her older sister broke the dam of pain, hurt, mistrust and misunderstanding that had grown up between us. In her post, Rachel wrote:
"Four months ago I spoke with my dad. Not a polite conversation: an honest one. I remember sitting nervously next to my older sister and brother-in-law as my dad came in the room and walked over to me. I reached out and hugged him (to my surprise), and all of that love, disappointment, and anger that I held towards him leaked out of me like water escaping from cupped hands. In that instant all I had for my dad was love; overwhelming love for someone that had mistreated me, confusing me with his new lifestyle he chose when he moved out. It was this indescribable love that I knew was inside of me the entire time, waiting to come out.  
A large part of my heart was unclogged that day. Since then I have grown and opened up more. I am more honest, loving, giving, and kind. I am more open minded and accepting of others’ lifestyles. I still have a long way to go, but I’m on my way. I’m going." 
She went on to write:
"I’m sorry I missed your past two birthdays. I’m sorry I didn’t want to listen to your side of the story and turned you away countless times. I am sorry for locking you out of my life. But I thank God every day that you’re in my life. I thank him for the love that you have for me and the knowledge that I can call you any time and I know you will answer. I thank God that I was able to take a risk and mend things with you back in June, and that you were willing to, too ...  
"Thank you for all those letters you wrote to me, wanting so badly to spend time with me but only getting rejection. I saved every single letter, every email, every note. I treasure them. Thank you for accepting where I’m at right now with your lifestyle and for not forcing it on me ... Thank you for loving me as much as you do."
It was one of the best birthday presents I could have received ... ever.

But the day was not over.

Mark took me out to dinner last night at the Four Seasons Resort here in Maui. There is much I could write of this experience. He had arranged for us to have a special table looking out over the ocean toward the sunset (thus, the two pictures above). We had our salad, then our main course, then it was time to order dessert. We each placed our orders and sat back and enjoyed the scene in front of us. 

Then, it happened. The server brought out two plates of - you guessed it - pumpkin pie. I was so surprised! It turned out that Mark had inquired whether the pastry chef could make a pumpkin pie, and when he was told that was not possible, he did the next best thing, i.e., he went to Safeway, purchased a pie and delivered it to the Four Seasons while he was supposedly at the gym, working out.

This is the kind of man Mark is. I am the luckiest guy in the world. As we walked out of the restaurant that evening, several servers turned to say "Happy Birthday" to me; then as we walked past the receptionist, she, too, said "Happy Birthday" as we passed. It's such a wonderful feeling, to feel special. That was Mark's gift to me. It was such a wonderful evening.

What a contrast to two years ago the day had been. As the song says, "I am the luckiest ..."

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