In early September 1957 we were on our way to Puerto Rico (PR) aboard a ship. Dear Ole Dad had been stationed at Ramey AFB, PR. It was on that trip that I had my 11th birthday.
There were 4 kids on that voyage who had birthdays that week. The ship’s crew threw a party for us one day in one of the dining rooms. There were actually quite a few kids and parents in attendance. I don’t remember either of my folks being there … As it turned out the crew only had 3 gifts for 4 kids. So, they decided the only “fair” way to see who would get the gifts would be to hold a singing contest.
I don’t remember what the other kids sang, but I sang the theme song from “Davy Crockett,” one of my favorite shows of the time. I lost. I didn’t get a gift. Not only was losing humiliating, it was embarrassing. The laughter cut through me like a sharp blade – but I ‘pretended’ that it didn’t matter. I imagine that my life of ‘pretending’ had it’s origins with this incident…
From then on, birthdays just didn’t seem to matter to me. What’s the point? Oh, I would ‘pretend’ that it was a big deal, but they really weren’t … there was always that haunting thought lingering that “I wasn’t good enough,” or “I didn’t deserve …” so what was the point of it all?
Birthdays came and went over the years, and I kept ‘pretending.’ I just didn’t get too excited about them, and that way I “protected” myself – or so I thought. Isolation, deep within myself. Lonely. Phoney.
Sometime around 10 – 12 years ago, when I was flying the DC-9 for Northwest Airlines I was on my way to work one day, on my birthday. I was not in a ‘relationship’ at the time, but I was in a great ‘spiritual space.’ Going to work ‘on my birthday, just wasn’t a big deal. It was sunny out, that morning, and I remember thinking about my birthday, and of birthdays past. And I decided that I was going to have a great day, that day!
When I got to the gate for our first leg, our first flight, the gate agent remarked that I seemed to be in a rather ‘happy’ mood. I replied something like, “Why not? Today’s my birthday!’ I went about my flight planning, thinking nothing more about it.
Our first leg took us to Chicago. Upon arrival at the gate, I stood in the doorway to say ‘good bye’ to the folks. It wasn’t long before someone wished me a “Happy Birthday!” I had said nothing to the crew, and it took me by surprise. Soon, almost everyone was saying something to me; and it was kinda fun.
When the passengers had all deplaned, the flight attendants told me that the gate agent had informed them of my birthday. They took it from there…
Our next leg took us to Minneapolis. It was the copilot’s leg, so I thought nothing more about it. When we got to the gate, this time I stayed in my seat as the copilot said farewell to the folks. It wasn’t long however, before people began leaning around him to wish me a “”Happy Birthday.” Amazing! The copilot then stood aside so I could stand up and acknowledge their kindness. It was then that I became acutely aware of something that I had seen in Chicago; and of something that I had felt. Connections! Ever so small “micro-connections.” Like bursts of energy through the eyes!
These ‘connections’ weren’t long; but they were there, and they were powerful. They also didn’t come from everyone – just from folks I suspect were ‘spiritual’ in and of themselves. And I loved it, the feeling of being connected!
Our last leg that day took us to Billings, MT. Upon landing, as we were authorized to do in those days, I opened the cabin door upon clearing the runway. It gets hot in the DC-9 cockpit on the ground, and opening the door gives us some relief. As we taxied in, the whole cabin erupted into a chorus of “Happy Birthday!” I can only begin to tell you how good that felt. Not how good that ‘sounded,’ or how good that ‘was’ – but how good that ‘felt.’ For the first time, in a very long time, I was able to ‘feel!’ And I wanted to continue taxiing past the gate and around the airfield, to savor the experience. But then ‘reality’ raised her ugly head, and I turned into the gate.
And once again, I saw and felt the ‘micro-connections’ as the passengers deplaned. Only this time I was so much more aware of them. Powerful
On the way to the hotel I expressed my gratitude to the crew for their kindness in helping me celebrate my birthday. I don’t think I shared my experience on the ship so many years ago; I was too consumed in joy! I hope some day they will all know what that day meant to me. And it’s kinda cool, as I relive tat experience today, I can still feel those ‘micro-connections’ as I tell this story – today, on my birthday.
So, with no specific ‘birthday’ plans, today will be a good day! I will probably work on the mound out by my pond, go visit Chuck in the hospital and run a few errands. And all the while, I will be singing the theme song from “Davy Crockett!” Sing along with me
Of note: I can not remember what any of those gifts were from that day back in 1957, but I vividly remember the spiritual connections of the three flights 10 – 12 years ago. And many more since then. I am so grateful for the awareness I have today, through sobriety…