I celebrated a birthday this week and part of my day involved returning to the very hospital where I was born. It wasn’t a pilgrimage. No, I was visiting my only brother, who was a patient there. It was late afternoon and it was nearly to the hour that I’d been born within those walls fifty-two years ago.
I couldn’t help but think of my twenty-three year old mother, who may have been frightened and in pain as she experienced labour for the first time. And how she could likely not have envisioned her soon-to-be-born first son as a fifty-two year old visiting her yet-to-be-imagined second son in his hospital bed. It occurred to me that while some of us may not travel very far from our cradles to our graves, the paths we forge on the way are at the very least unpredictable, and more probably unfathomable.
The next day, while on my way home, I saw an old fella standing at the door of my bus on Rideau Street and he asked the driver if the bus went to Rideau Street. The driver told the man that he was already on the street he was looking for but the old man was nearly deaf so he couldn’t hear the good news and the driver had to repeatedly yell it at him, capturing the attention of everyone on the bus. My first instinct was to chuckle at the situation but then I remembered how my father in law, in his later years, would sometimes fall asleep on the street car and miss his stop or end up in the wrong part of town altogether. And in this old man I recognized the same struggle to navigate a simple bus ride without the faculties most of us take for granted. And my amusement dissipated into something else I can’t quite describe. Getting old stinks.
When I got home, I was locked out of the house. My wife forgot to unlock the deadbolt on the front door and I didn’t have a way in through the garage. I had four hours to kill until she finished work and I had two bags of groceries and nowhere to go. I messaged her to tell her of my predicament and she decided to come home, being able to finish her work day in our home office. But I still had an hour to wait on my front stoop.
So I made a snowman.
The snow was perfect. It was freshly fallen and wet and heavy and the boulders practically rolled themselves. I probably hadn’t made a snowman since I was a teenager and I’d never made a snowman by myself. But I wanted to reward my wife with some laughter as she drove up the driveway. As I was creating my masterpiece, I quickly came to understand why people make snowmen in groups. It’s meant to be a social activity and making one by myself, though kind of fun, wasn’t quite the same. It took about twenty minutes and though the hat and the scarf I dressed it with remained damp for the rest of the day, seeing my wife’s laughter was worth it.
It’s Sunday morning now and the week is coming to an end. It’s early, before seven, and it’s cold enough outside that only the occasional dedicated dog walker can be seen on our quiet street. The kitchen smells like coffee but I haven’t started on the bacon yet because I suspect the smell of it cooking might wake up my wife and she needs her sleep.
I can see the snowman from the kitchen window and it acts as some kind of inuksuk for my week, reminding me that I was there. And it’s clear to me that playing in the snow had very little to do with playing in the snow because as soon as I decided to recapture a sliver of my childhood, the worries of the previous days melted away. I’d forgotten I’d spent part of my birthday in a hospital. I worried a little less about my brother, knowing he’d just been discharged. And I felt confidant that the old man somehow was able to find his way home.
In a week when I’d been left out in the cold, I knew it wouldn’t be for long. And though my clothing had been cold and wet, I knew I’d soon be warm and dry. And in a week when I eschewed celebration and thought I didn’t want any attention, I got just right the amount.
And I think that’s all I’d ever really want for my birthday.