A Happy Day

One day you’re a swimmer in high school; the next you’re graduating from college. What seems like a few years later you’re sixty-nine. A lot of life happened in between.


Today’s my birthday, the cusp between Aquarius and Capricorn. I doubt that has any meaning but I like to think about this idea of cuspness, between one sign and another, the best of two worlds, maybe the worst of both?


And indeed it is! The cusp of Aquarius and Capricorn is the Cusp of Mystery and Imagination, so says tarot.com.


Determined, creative, entertaining, idealistic, witty, empathetic


Detached, chaotic, selfish, aloof, critical, judgmental

I could write an entire narrative to support these characteristics. That’s what we do. We string together life’s happenings into a story that gives—we believe—substance and meaning to our lives. A reason why we’re here, doing what we do.

It’s just a story we tell ourselves.

But today is a different birthday. It’s not an especially important one. I don’t mind turning sixty-nine. I neither feel it (however it’s supposed to feel) nor regret the advance in age. That’s what happens, and who wants to be young today anyway. Not me. I fear for the world my young grandchildren will inherit.

Today’s birthday comes at the beginning of a new future, a future that didn’t exist in my life a year ago when my wife decided she no longer could be married. My birthday came only a few days before that declaration. I should have known it was inevitable, history repeating itself, but chose to see only what I wanted to see, which wasn’t the dissolution of our marriage. But it happened. Life happens, even when you don’t want it to.


Today’s birthday is in Boston. I moved here two weeks ago, a one-way ticket to a new life in a familiar city that I will create, not out of my past but with a new freedom to be, freedom to act. It’s an imperative.

I’m spending today’s birthday—which I share with MLK as a holiday—with my son Sam and his family. I know a special breakfast is in store, smoked salmon, rye toast, scrambled eggs, two little twin boys maybe singing happy birthday if grandpa is lucky.

What I want to guard against is routine, falling into a routine that’s safe and orderly and ever so respectable. That would be easy to do here in Boston, a safe and orderly and respectable city, or at least the city I know. Some will be enough.


Last night it snowed, soft thick snow that covered the ground by morning with about four inches of powder. It was the first snowfall of my first winter in the new life chapter. We shoveled the driveway parking area, piled a mountain of snow for sledding, at least enough for a few good rides the twins could enjoy. By afternoon most of the snow was gone, the temperature reaching 38, dipping to 18 again tonight. Winter in Boston.


Today on my birthday I’ll think about my friends in San Francisco, and the probability that I would have started the day with a birthday swim at the South End, a birthday swim, like others in years before, with my friend Josh. This time of year the water in the Bay is cold, in the low 50’s if not colder. I remember one birthday, two years ago, when Josh and I swam up to the Creakers and swimming back encountered a strong current coming straight out from the Cove, pushing us away from the opening. For about ten minutes we both thought we might not be able to muscle our way back in. The water was frigid; we were frigid. Of course we did make it, and the sauna that morning was especially welcoming.


I’ll think of birthdays in happier days spent at Deetjens in Big Sur and the Ahwahnee in Yosemite. I’ll think of my 60th birthday, getting side by side massages in Palo Alto. I’ll think of my 50th birthday in Briarcliff Manor, a dinner party of good friends from those days in my honor. The Westchester County friends are no more. Nor is 50.


Today’s birthday, here in Boston, will be auspicious, steeped in intent. It will be intentful, a marking, a passage to this new future.

It will be a happy day.


Farewell. But not forgotten.

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1 Comment

  1. Ranie

     /  January 19, 2020

    Many happy returns of the day dear Niland! New England is the bomb!!! You are in the right coast! Ranie

    Sent from my iPhone



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