I took the day off Monday.
I wasn't going to write and I certainly wasn't going to write about birthdays. Not here. Mainly because I had little to say that hadn't already been said at some juncture before -- emptying the well every year only to refill it again with the same regurgitated meaning, grasping at straws in attempt to suck the remaining moisture out and into my throat -- gurgle, gurgle.
And yet, here I am. Spit over ice, served with a twist of lime.
I had big plans for my birthday. Plans that fell through and the kids were at camp and Bo and Revi were down for an early nap and what now, self? It's your birthday. Go do something different. Go be something new.
I used to close my eyes and grab a book from the shelf and put it in my bag and wait until I was at the park to open it. To see what I had chosen. I would then sit for hours and read and notate and collect wisdom I had convinced myself was exactly what I needed to hear. I was my own fortune teller and someday, when I die and my kids go through my library, they will laugh together at how seriously I took every line of text.
"THIS! Exactly!" in the margins of every book.
Because every question had an answer on the page of something.
So yesterday, that's what I did. I grabbed a book and I went to the park and sat under a tree like I used to when I worked nights and had the days to myself. Me and the dogs parked under a tree outside LACMA.
Yesterday's book was "Balthazar" by Lawrence Durrell. A book I read a decade ago. I unfolded my blanket and sprawled out under a tree, seeking the wisdom of pages covered in ink, paragraphs underlined, exclamation points in the margins.
Except forty-seven pages in, nothing struck me as fortuitous. The wisdom I had hoped to inherit went unrevealed.
Had I become more cynical? More closed off to the words I was once wide open to receive?
I sat up, turned the page, kept reading until my eye wandered off the page and into the park... past the lawn and out at the winding cement path, a boy on a bike, his (father?) holding on to the back of the seat, ready go...
I followed them back and forth several times, watched as the dad let go, his hands in the air for a moment and then back on the seat, up, down, let go, hold on, let go, and then BAM ... a crash in slow motion, the boy's legs tangled under the pedals.
"It's okay, you're doing great."
And up came the bike and then the boy.
You're doing great, kid. Good hustle, come on, you got this.
I gave up trying to read. This was the story. This was every story ever told. It took two hours for the boy to get the hang of the bike he was riding.
Not once did he cry. Or kick the pavement. Not once did the father throw his hands in the air out of frustration. They were patient with each other and the winding path that made turning difficult. They were there to learn. To teach and to learn.
And then ... he let go. He let go and watched as the boy kept going, his feet planted, his body still. There was no cheering. No clapping. Just awe.
Underlined. Exclamation points in the margin. All the answers are right here in front of you.
When I left they were still there. It was already past 2:00 and I had to sprint to my car to get home to the kids.
Later on, Hal and I watched the Bill Cunningham documentary, which had been on deck in our queue for months.
I had told Hal about my day -- about the boy who learned to ride a bike and how spectacular it was -- the moment -- like life happening. How if I hadn't looked up, I would have missed it. How it had nothing to do with me but everything to do with everything and everyone. How I remember the feeling of riding my bike without training wheels for the first time. How this boy will remember it, too. And how proud the dad must have been. He did it! They both did it!
I didn't realize that Bill Cunningham New York was all about a man on a bike. It was about his photographs, sure, but mainly it was about a man who spent his life moving from one street to the next with a camera on his back.
Learning and falling and teaching and pushing forward and watching people live and what wonderful life we experience. Not just our own but the lives of others. We get to witness these moments from across parks and city streets. The world is our world and strangers are as important to our stories as friends, family...
"He who seeks beauty will find it," Cunningham says in the film.
Watching a boy learn to ride his bike reminded me that every moment we become better equipped to be here, more willing and able to move forward, to let go, to be free, to ride on.
Before bed, Hal commented on the theme of the day.
"It was all bikes for you today, wasn't it?"
Totally. Weird, right?
"That's the key to living a long and happy life, right? Wake up with purpose. Ride on."
I used to spend a lot of time in parks watching life unfold. I've been so busy these past few years, so fixated on my own reality that I've lost touch with the estranged -- the characters outside my home, my family. I want to spend more time with people I don't know. I want to teach my kids to ride their bikes and get back on one myself. And I'm not talking about actual bikes. Not entirely.
Balance takes work. Balance takes work and help and time and being willing and able to get caught under bike pedals. Balance means someone holding the seat. Holding the seat for others.
Sometimes the most profound wisdom comes from witnessing the simplest of moments. How fortunate we are to be able to watch. I talk a mean talk about forging my own path, but the journey becomes far more profound when we have others to watch forge theirs. That's why we have kids, isn't it? That's certainly one of the reasons. Their actions help us reinforce our own. Wake up with purpose. Seek beauty beyond the book. Hold tight. Let go. Ride on.
I have big plans for tomorrow. And I kind of can't wait for them to fall through.