Today I am 46.

This morning broke clear and cool, like the very earth itself was saying “I knew just what to get you.” Right now the sky is a crystalline blue with cottony clouds that look like they were pasted on by an enthusiastic preschooler whose teacher left the bag of batting unattended. Green leaves are rustling just outside my open tree-top window. When I dream of heaven, it feels like this.

For my birthday this year, I got myself an 8:45 am doctor’s appointment. Back in December when I couldn’t imagine ever feeling safe enough to leave my house again, a check up on my birthday felt like a reasonable birthday outing. So I visited my doctor today. As I sat in her exam room, gown open to the front with a paper blanket across my lap, it occurred to me that just being alive long enough to be sitting there was, in fact, a thing to celebrate. Who better to acknowledge the miracle of my continued existence with than my doctor?

As I drove away, the words of Mary Oliver echoed in my mind:

it is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

This year, more than any other, I am grateful to be alive. I am here, drawing breath into my lungs while covid-19 continues to ravage lives around the world. I am likely to avoid this terrible outcome, thanks to the tireless work of scientists and medical professionals and every single person who helped get these shots into my arm and the arms of nearly everyone I love.

The refrain echoes again:

it is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

A few weeks ago, I made a list of all the things that I have managed to do in this year, even as I swam against the tide of trying to survive a pandemic. It was a good list, with small victories and some big ones too. I made it to remind myself that I have not been utterly stagnant in this weird year, though it often looked and felt like it. I had every intention of showing it off because I was proud of myself. And then? I woke up this morning and I realized that this alone—simply waking up to another new day—was enough. I made it this far. God willing, I’ll make it this far again and again, for many, many years.

So today, this is the rhythm of my heartbeat:

it is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

Hello 46. It’s nice to see you. What a beautiful day you have given me.

And now, a birthday gift to you: the rest of the poem.

Invitation by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have time

to linger

for just a little while

out of your busy

and very important day

for the goldfinches

that have gathered

in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,

to see who can sing

the highest note,

or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,

or the most tender?

Their strong, blunt beaks

drink the air

as they strive


not for your sake

and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning

but for sheer delight and gratitude –

believe us, they say,

it is a serious thing

just to be alive

on this fresh morning

in the broken world.

I beg of you,

do not walk by

without pausing

to attend to this

rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.

It could mean everything.

It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:

You must change your life.

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