Saturday, March 7, 2009


A Birthday Memory

I had come to Britain some years back to observe the occasion of my fortieth birthday with the half hearted hope that by not being in the actual country of my birth on the actual date, perhaps it wouldn’t really count, or even, by some magical quirk in the time- space continuum, the numbers attributed to my age account might happily begin to reverse. I was not exactly certain what I was supposed to be feeling. It seemed as though this particular age I was facing was meant to serve as a milestone of sorts, especially for a woman. After all, there were specialized magazines for “women over forty”, women in the public eye seemed to have careers divided into before - and after - forty, and it seemed as though everything from fashion to health care moved into separate categories at this advanced age, categories heretofore uncharted and not exactly welcoming. Was I supposed to feel differently now? Was a cultural shroud being fashioned for me at this very moment; my very own cloak of invisibility that was the requisite uniform for antediluvian women like myself? I had never before defined myself by any sort of category. Would I be forced to now?

I sat in a cafe in Bath pondering all this one damp and chilly afternoon, when the door suddenly blew open and I turned to see a quite beautiful lady of a certain age enter. She was an exquisite creature, clad in an exotic ensemble of black and grey, complete with a most fetching hat worn over enviable blonde hair, and followed closely by a tweedy gentleman, obviously younger, and obviously besotted. She arranged herself at the table next to mine thereby providing me with a observation point that I took full advantage of. Indeed it was difficult to take my eyes off her. Laughing frequently, with twinkling eyes, she seemed both enormously interesting and interested at the same time. I wanted nothing more than to scoot my chair up to her table and l talk to her all afternoon. I wanted to follow her home. As I watched her I realized, that although obviously older than myself, I could not begin to pinpoint her exact age, nor was that even remotely of interest where this woman was concerned.

And, as I sat there sipping Darjeeling and studying her, I began to feel like myself again, realizing afresh that age is of no matter in the true world. Life was a gift, pure and simple; a sublime journey of learning, giving and love, and it was meant to be lived, full tilt, for as long we are blessed to be here. In short, I got over myself, and went on to enjoy quite a jolly holiday.

I have often wondered who that lady was and where she might be now. She gave me quite a marvelous birthday present that day.
I can still hear her laughter.

39 comments:

  1. That was quite a birthday gift, so, I can still say, "Happy Birthday", not reminding you on being pushed in in a corner where you do not want to be - but just as free as you were before this birthday!!
    And I carry quite a bit more years than you, but sometimes I think, life is so good right now, because now I have the wisdom to know all the things that I need to be happy.
    Somewhat like a second chance on life. I intend to enjoy my life at least twice as much as before. Years? They are just random numbers to me.

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  2. What a wonderful gift Pamela and how true everything you say is. Enjoy every year whatever the number, that is my motto, and from my experience they only get better. xv

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  3. Isn't Bath wonderful, a great place to spend your birthday. Forty looks enviably young now I am fifty five! And you know what, that's ok too.

    My inspiration has always been my family, one of them made it to 100 without ever having travelled by bus. (cars, taxi's and trains only) otherwise she would walk. She never married but always had male admirers. She also enjoyed drinking Guinness and eating cheese and onion sandwiches, so now you know the secret to a long and happy life!

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  4. Such a beautiful story - a perfect present! Forty has been and gone for me also and i slowly came to realise that it was no momentous occassion, each year brings its own special memories & precious moments. I agree with Jeanette, it is about the wisdom of years. Life is for living no matter what age we are. my only aim now is to grow old with gusto! *ruthie*

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  5. Hello P&E,

    If the saying "Life begins at Forty" is anything to go by, one should be having a high time, rather than the opposite!

    We have just received a postcard from octogenarian friends who are enjoying a cruise around Australia and throughout the Far East! They have marvellous stamina and a zest for life. If I can have a fraction of their energy and enthusiasm I shall be content!

    Your lady looks very stylish but her makeup looks a tad severe!

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  6. Glad you saw someone who straighted out our values again.
    I never felt the slightest difference between 39 and 40. I had mine while travelling through the rockies, in Golden BC and the leaves had all tuned gold. It was too late to get anything to eat. Luckily we had a few scanty provisions to share with our two ravenous teenagers and the Prof produced a bottle of Portuguese rose and two beautiful green cut crystal glasses. We had a ball and to top it all off, the bed vibreated but none of us could stay the distance to get our quarter's worth, we all laughed too much.

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  7. What a great gift -- and it's better not knowing who she was!

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  8. You are only as old as you act, so if you want to be younger, act younger. I don't even remember 40 but I don't feel old so I guess i'm doing good.
    Carol

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  9. Pamela~ I am well past that number and love each and every day. It's wonderful the way seeing someone - that inspires can turn things around for us. I think as we get older we become more comfortable in our own skin and our unique styles are born. I once had a similar experiance as you~ and honestly- I think it changed the way I now feel about aging. It is delicious.

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  10. to me the must profoundly beautiful thing about her was this; that she was
    'enormously interesting and interested at the same time.'


    but you see...this very thing applies to you !!


    happy birthday my lovely !!

    xx

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  11. And she never knew the influence she had on you. How often this kind of thing must happen.
    A friend sent me a list of things about getting older in an e mail today - the only one I remember (and I thought it was good) was go on as many trips as you like as you get older, but never go on a guilt trip. thought that was sound advice.

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  12. A very beautiful gift..a day to remember as we should all the special moments in life...life is shorter then we think..So..have a magical memorable weekend:)

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  13. so it was a worthwhile trip ,revealing life is just meant to be lived...
    Yes I agree.. age doesn't matter.. Life does...
    ...53 isn't too bad either... it is all in our Heads!!

    I love what weaver said about the guilt trips!!!

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  14. Your posts are always like little presents to linger over! Happy Birthday!

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  15. such a fragile thing life is - so fleeting - I sincerely believe that we must live 110% everyday! the 10% is a bit of risk thrown in each day to grow.....

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  16. I strive to be that woman. Great story, thanks and happy birthday. 40 is a fine place to be :)

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  17. yes what a wonderful gift. I didn't mind turning 40, to be honest, I think every age is fine, and more so these days...

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  18. I think being in your forties is a fabulous time, a time to reconcile a lot of things, and in your fifties you're well and truly over them.Too many pressures in your thirties.I agree that life gets better as you get older- your cafe lady is a wonderful example, and the experience is even more special by her remaining a mystery. I liked the first comment too "...now I have the wisdon to know all the things that I need to be happy". Great post Pamela!

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  19. That was just the gift you needed, tailor made for you. And perhaps one day, who knows, you may be the beautiful one someone else is studying with wonder. Let your beauty shine!

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  20. Life does give the best gifts, don't it?

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  21. It is delightful that all of you think this happened recently, which would mean I am younger than I am!! No...this was a few years back!

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  22. What a perfect story that applies to every age. What a true gift. And than you for sharing it with me.

    Happy day to you...and you are both interested and interesting. I am sure you have inspired countless.

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  23. Age is of no consequence, as long as you feel you are free to do as you like. Forty is a middle age in the scheme of things. You are perfectly balanced between those years of having to achieve and once the fifties are reached, you have arrived and there is nothing to concern yourself with.

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  24. What a wonderful present! Happiest of birthday wishes to you, dear Pamela. I will be joining you next month. We can journey together into this next chapter, and I'm glad you graced me with the story of your gift - it's helping me as I turn the corner towards 40. I see it in a whole new light, now. Thank you.
    xo Isa

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  25. Well, I've been to forty, and it had many wonderful moments. I've been to fifty, too, and it opened new doors and offered some never-before-considered opportunities. When I get to sixty I might start thinking about what these different milestone ages really mean, but for now I'll stay focussed on taking in everything that this wonderful world put in front of me.
    ......oh, and I want to be that woman!

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  26. Don't you just love being intrigued, amazed and inspired by those woman ahead of us on the path to aging. Somehow these woman are put in our paths to usher us towards the future.

    At my church there is a woman who has confessed to being 84, and it must be true since she told me at church. She has the most interesting life but one of the things I enjoy most about her is that she keeps herself interesting. English is her second language, French is her third language So that she doesn't forget how to speak it she has created a lunch group of French speakers and she meet up with them once a week. They eat lunch and speak only French for two hours. I hope when I am 84 I am as disciplined.

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  27. A very happy birthday to you, Pamela. It just keeps getting better!
    Catherine

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  28. Oh Pamela, that was a lovely gift you were so lucky to receive. And you write about it so generously.
    We never change on the inside, do we? It is a source of amazement for me. As you have done, I have learned to accept and appreciate all the signs of my growing more wise and comfortable in myself.:)

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  29. Happy Birthday my friend!! I didn't know we were a week apart!! What a beautiful gift you gave yourself. Enjoy! xoxo

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  30. I think sometimes people cross our paths to teach and show us something. I am so glad she was your birthday gift. :-) She sounds a little like the woman from "Under a Tuscan Sun".

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  31. What a wonderful gift and beautiful story-- one that I am sure we could all keep in mind (there seem to always be milestones of expectation associated with ages for women- and this is a perfect reminder that you don't have to be on anyone's schedule but your own!)

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  32. I love this post Pamela. I like to think of myself in wide open terms, though some would perhaps categorize me by age. But were I not to look in the mirror ever again, I'd have no idea of my age myself!

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  33. Happy birthday Pamela! Your 40th sounds like it was wonderful and I wish every one to come will bring you the same feeling of magic.

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  34. That sounds like a very special lady to have given you such a memory not just for one birthday but all those since, too. Some people have a vibrancy and vivacity that makes them always alive in people's memories sometimes after they are long gone. What a wonderful story:)

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  35. I find the before 40/after 40 comparison to be some weird self-fulfilling prophecy.

    My 40-something friends and neighbours (I'm one too)are all as vital as they were at 25. Some are even young mothers (or mothers of the young). There is really something to be said for the adage "you are only as old as you feel"

    Anyway from your picture you don't look a day over 35.

    AND I really like the portrait accompanying this post. Reminds me of the Marchesa Cassati

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  36. Me again. I'm very chatty tonight.

    I have an actual photograph of this hat in a book of the Vienna Secession. It's called "The Nautilus"

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  37. This is exquisite. Pamela, you have been so blessed with the gift of words; in turn, you are a true blessing to all of us.

    Thank you for this. I'm approaching my 40th this year and this post is perfection...You don't look a day over 35, btw! :-)

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  38. I was pulled into this post by the image...makes me wonder what the artist was thinking as he/she mixed the paint for the flesh tone and applied it to the canvas!

    My own mother, also British, struggled with age from 30 on. She would not even tell us how old she was, and used to love to play a game in which we would go to a local mall and she would have me guess the age of the people walking by. She would tell me that I had an astonishing gift at this, although upon reflection, it's not as if we were ever able to verify my accuracy!

    My mother died at the young age of 57. I now think about how much she would have given to have seen 58...and 60...and 70...and so on. It seems so silly to fret about age when all we really want (most of us) is a full life, a life of health and happiness and joy.

    Easier said than done, though. Although I try to shrug off the insecurities of aging, now that I am 'that close' to 40 (not there yet), I am oberving women older than me and wondering how I will look at that age. It seems like you cross a line between young to youngish to somewhere in the middle, and stay there a while...not young, but not old either.

    I always love a post that causes me to think, thank you for this. I often wish my mother were here today; I appreciate her more and more as the years go by.

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