Happy 14th Birthday Buddy

Dear Levi,

Today I’m wishing you the Happiest Birthday!

I’m in a totally different space than I’ve been in years past. More reflective and more content with certain outcomes in my life–even if they didn’t happen like I wanted.

For so many years I’ve thought about what life would be like with you here. Though today, I really felt at peace of my life without you here.

No longer do I feel like time was stolen from you. Instead, I feel like what you gave me was this gift of a radical and transformational experience. One that I’m starting to understand. And one that I’ll never fully understand. 

Oftentimes the shittiest (yeah, you’re 14 now–you can handle my New-York City English) experiences turn into that–but sometimes it takes years to end up seeing the movie roll through, because much of the time is more like seeing a point-in-time photograph. I’ve had a hard time remembering that during tough time, in general, but most specifically with you.

One of my virtues–and vices–is that I’m pretty high octane and haven’t done  a great job of throttling it in life. There’s a strange juxtaposition that the thing that can make you good at *insert whatever* is often the thing that hinders you too if left imbalanced.

Last week I was at a market and I was buying charcuterie because I was having friends over (yeah, I’m about to tell a story about charcuterie for your birthday, Levi ;-)).

As I’m trying to haul ass move briskly through the grocery story I approach the deli counter and a 60-something woman wearing work overalls happens to be two steps in front of me.

“No biggie, this is going to be fast…I’m going to get all this stuff done on time” I said to myself.

10 minutes later, and no foolsies, this woman is still sampling cheeses like a maitre fromager.

I’m visibly sweating with palpitations.

The slowness of her cheese sampling, the consideration given with each bite…the inefficiency of what’s happening during my need-for-speed-to-get-out-that-door-and-on-with-my-life-PEOPLE-WHAT-ARE-WE-DOING-HERE-LETS-PICK-A-CHEESE-ALREADY.

I’m getting angina every time she asks a question.

I walked away a few steps to head to the aisle with Niacin  to be certain not to show my angst. But when I looked back at her from a distance I saw a totally different scenario unfolding before me. Before, I was standing so close to her buried in the annoyance of what was mudrucking my schedule, that I couldn’t see what was really happening.

For 30 seconds I started observing.

She’s laughing, asking questions, contemplating, relaxing, and, well, she’s having fun. I’m not–but she’s having a flipping blast.

So I walk back to the counter and decide to engage with her.

Starting with a friendly hello (I had to work extra hard at that point), and then by asking her favorite cheeses of the 117 she’d sampled so far, which led to recommendations AND OH MY GOODNESS THE UNENDING RECOMMENDATIONS…

But then this led to her talking about her job…sheet metal working as a union employee. And me talking about my grandfather pressing suits for a lifetime in Chicago having, as a Lithuanian immigrant, never proceeding past 2nd grade. Which, of course, led the discussion to: Detroit. Water. More sheet metal stories. The homogenization of San Francisco. And, well, more cheese recommendations and how why oh why Saint Peter aren’t there more cheese deli’s in the Bay like they had 40-years ago?

(I don’t know…we just don’t know, there are some unanswerable questions in life and this, apparently, is one of them–and believe me, we talked about this for awhile and racked our brains)

We talked for 30 minutes. When I was walking out I almost went back to hug it out with her. As I was driving off here’s what I realized: When I was standing right next to her I couldn’t see.

And it wasn’t until I stepped back, and engaging with her, until I could REALLY see what was happening. That night at the market, I was trying to get in and out so I could get to my Friday night. Every deviation was an obstacle to my plans.

But, for her, that WAS her Friday night out.

And, getting to know her, well, it was a gift to me as well–and ended up being one of the highlights of my week, too, however small and inconsequential.

As I was driving away I thought of you.

And perspective. Which, sometimes you don’t get until you step away or reset.

Occasionally it’s simple stuff. Apparently, like my experience with the cheese lady.

And other times it’s a lot more complicated stuff that can leave someone with years of unyielding despair, like my experience with you.

And often times, what you really just need, is more perspective.

Today, I’m grateful for you.

As you came. And as you left. For giving me a great gift of perspective. Even if it took me a lot of years to finally get there. Love you–no matter what.

Happy Birthday, Buddy!



*This is my annual birthday post for Levi. The prior years posts are all here



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