Sunday, March 20, 2016

What Do I Want For My Birthday?

Exactly two weeks from today, I will endure another birthday. It will be my 58th. Pretty soon my wife will ask me what I want for my birthday. I will offer one of my famously frustrating answers, "I really can't think of anything. Whatever you get will be fine." She will rightly point out that this is not an answer. The problem is that everything that I want is either too expensive, or too theoretical. How exactly to you wrap up, calmness? In what size box do you place, peace?

Don't misunderstand me, I have many reasons to celebrate April the 3rd, not the least of which is that it sure beats the alternative. In ways large and small, I have lived a blessed life. It has featured more victory than defeat, more health than illness, and more wealth than poverty. It was my very good fortune to be raised by two extraordinary parents, and surrounded by three loving siblings. I married far beyond my station and brought two exemplary children into this world. I received a hard won education, started and built a business of my own from scratch. Along the way I have found friends to share it all with. And yet...

This is where one must be careful. It is difficult to speak of anxiety and disenchantment without sounding like a whiner. Indeed, it may be impossible. We are about to find out, I suppose. This year, as I approach April 3rd, I do so with an odd heaviness, a weight of doubt. Many things contribute to the weight, and none of them particularly stand out as the prime culprit. In no particular order, here they are...

1. I miss my kids.

My children are grown and gone, and this is a fabulous and happy thing. Both of them have become independent adults, valuable additions to their communities and terrific human beings. I am quite proud of both of them. My oldest, Kaitlin, a world class teacher of the English language to middle schoolers, married a fabulous young man who has proven his mettle both as a husband and provider. My son, Patrick, is a hard working businessman and musician who has carved out a nice life for himself the old fashioned way...by working hard and well. The trouble with all of this is that they are miles and miles away from us. Columbia, South Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee are not cities where you drop by for dinner when you live in Short Pump, Virginia. So, they live and build their full lives without us. Yes, we text, talk and FaceTime. Yes, we plan vacations together. But, neither of them are here, and that fact has left a vacuum. When they start having kids of their own the vacuum will become a canyon.

2. Running a business isn't nearly as fulfilling as starting one.

Establishing myself in the investment advisory business was no small feat. I nearly quit a hundred times. But eventually, I was able to make a go of it, and it has been a rewarding career. Of course, the hand maiden of my work is often debilitating stress. As a younger man, I never gave it a second thought. The older I have gotten, the harder it has become to manage. 

3. I miss my parents.

My mom died nearly four years ago. My dad followed her two years later. I have never fully recovered from their loss. I don't weep, I'm not paralyzed by depression. But hardly a week goes by when at least once I think of how much I want to pick up the phone and hear their voices on the other end of the line. There are so many things I wish I could tell them, things I want to ask them about. But, it's too late for that. Instead, I must rely on my increasingly faded memories.

4. I have become spiritually homeless.

It has been a long, slow process, but I have become disconnected from the Baptist denomination in general and my home church of 27 years in particular. Most of this disconnection is my own fault. There is nothing especially horrible about my church. In many ways it is a remarkable place with a proud and noble heritage of faith. For me, it has become irrelevant to the realities of life in 2016. Nothing much has changed about the place since I joined as a young man. As life has gotten more complicated and much more serious, it's casual air of informality has begun to irritate me. I guess I'm longing for spiritually sterner stuff, something which finds its roots in an earlier century, a liturgy that wasn't conjured up in the 1950's, but rather closer to AD 50.

But, enough with all of this self reflection. What do I want for my birthday? It's simple really:

I want a week in Key West, in a villa on Sunset Key where Jon and Kaitlin can have one bedroom, Patrick's wonderful girlfriend, Sarah, can have another, and Patrick can sleep on a pull out sofa in the den. Pam and I will have the master bedroom which has its own private deck overlooking the blue ocean. While we are there, the stock market will go up every day, and all of my clients will be deliriously happy with their portfolios in my absence. At the end of a sandy road in an obscure corner of the island, we will find an Evangelical-Anglican-Holiness church with a 100 voice choir and sixty piece professional orchestra, where the guest speaker will be a hologram of C.S. Lewis. After a thunderous adaptation of an anthem by Handel, special music will be supplied by Steven Curtis Chapman accompanying himself on a Martin six string after he shared the inspiring story of the lives of Emmett and Betty Dunnevant.

Got all that, Pam?