When I woke at 6 a.m., my bedroom was bright with moonlight. The night had been stormy, rainy, but for about 20 minutes, the moon hovered in the big firs beyond my window, huge and silver. It’s the Wolf Moon or the Long Night Moon, as beautiful as any I’ve seen. I was awake, thinking about how everything comes around again and again in a life. Today is my birthday. I am 68 years old. I do my share of moaning about age and the decline of various parts of my body but honestly? It’s a privilege to have this long view of my life. To wake with someone I’ve loved for 44 years. To have the faces of my family appear on a screen to wish me happy birthday. To drive to the pool 8 minutes up the highway and to swim my slow kilometre to a playlist of what the lifeguard called golden oldies. Some early Beatles, Roy Orbison, “Ruby Tuesday”, and “Stand By Me”.
When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we’ll see
No, I won’t be afraid
Oh, I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me
I’m not afraid. Well, that’s not quite true. I’m afraid of what is happening to the planet, afraid we’ve gone too far to realize what we need to do to allow it to heal–our cars; our thermostats in our houses; the logging trucks I passed in the dark as I drove to the pool, heading to the cutblocks near Egmont, and then heading down the Coast as I drove home, laden with what used to be forests, habitats. I’m afraid for the world we are leaving to a generation that doesn’t deserve our carelessness. But I’m not afraid any more of aging. Was I ever? As a young woman, I couldn’t have imagined not taking my strength and agility for granted. But 7 years ago I had a health crisis and one result was that I had difficulty walking easily for a few months. No one knew quite why. Instead of my regular long walks, I began to swim regularly and it feels like those months were a hinge between the woman I was and the one I am now. This week I swam 4 times, 4000 metres, thinking the whole time. I reach out my arms, kick my legs, and think. I am working out a few wrinkles in the writing I am currently doing and when I swim, particularly when I do the backstroke, I’m able to see the text almost as a window. As long as I am in my favourite lane, I don’t have to worry about direction (my body knows!), and I can use my inner eye to figure out the relationships between my intention and the sentences required to carry it. One arm flings itself back and I see what needs to be done next. Some days I can hardly wait to get home to see if what I thought about while swimming will work on the actual page. The other day it did. Today I’m not so sure. I’ve come to the point in this writing where I need to figure out a way to introduce another strand of narrative.
This morning I came home and opened my birthday presents. I was sitting in a chair by the big window in our living room when I saw the star hanging in another window. This is the day when I usually take down the Christmas boughs and ribbons, the stars hung from lamps and bookshelves and the pot rack in the kitchen. We used to take down the strings of little lights around the windows but now we leave them because there’s nothing nicer than lights in winter, inside and out. But why not stars too? Or at least the ones June gives us every year for Christmas.
Swimming and listening to golden oldies with the memory of the moon still bright in my mind, the faces of my grandchildren eager on the screen as they sang Happy Birthday, the bottle of Chablis to remind me of the scent of rain over dry stones, stars hanging in the windows, on the day of Epiphany, 68 years on this earth, I am full of a version of hope, a more modest hope than I would have dreamed of even a decade ago, but it’s something. Maybe it’s everything.
If the sky that we look upon
Should tumble and fall
Or the mountains should crumble to the sea
I won’t cry, I won’t cry
No, I won’t shed a tear
Just as long as you stand, stand by me