Aging is an interesting exercise. Everyone does it, whether they die as children or as elderly people. I’ve heard that we were born dying, that the whole trajectory of a person’s life leads to the grave, that life has but one end, that none of us gets out of here alive. These are all true. But rarely do people speak of dying as a process of living. We don’t get to die unless we get to live.
For this reason, every now and then, I arrange a get-together where people from all the aspects of my life meet in one room and start conversations with each other. I do it every couple of years. There’s always a pretext for a party—my birthday, a holiday, or a life event.
Today, I turn 59 and my daughter reminded me of a gathering we had three years ago on this day. It started as an idea—hey, wouldn’t it be great if . . .? I had a pretext. I had a place, a neighborhood restaurant, where I was able to wrangle the back room. I had the people, some of whom knew each other and many who did not. A few days before my birthday, I sent a series of E-mails, texts, and Facebook invitations.
The party was to commence at 3 p.m. Virginia and I went to the place and arranged the back room. We scooted the tables together into one long one an the put the chairs around it. We ordered a couple of soft drinks and then stood there.
Slowly, people began to trickle in. I hugged every one of them and welcomed them to my party. As the guests arrived, we stood around talking. I introduced them to each other and moved one to the newcomer. I worried and fretted inside. Forty-some people had come. The back room of the restaurant that seemed so large when we arrived could now hardly accommodate my guests. What if no one talked to each other? What if the “party” didn’t gel and strangers stood around looking at each other and more or less waited for something to happen?
Soon, however, conversations began. Complete strangers found common ground. The room echoed with all kinds of shouts and exclamations, laughter and mirth. By the time Virginia and I wrangled everyone into seats to order their dinners, the crowd was just working itself. My job was to let it roll.
We had a great time and the party went on for hours after the food was eaten and the tables cleared. Sydney and I had a fantastic discussion. She was a busy kid in those days, no less than today. She was working full-time and going to school, putting together a life of her own. I’ll never forge the connection we had that day, a father and daughter catching up. I was so proud of her.
She moved around the crowd, chattering and well-wishing. It was very much in contrast to the painfully shy kid she had been. She used to have to be lead around a party. The party had to have something for her. I had problems keeping her entertained and I worried that she might not be having a good time. But this time, the party was hers. She talked with others with aplomb. Her innate confidence showed through.
After that event, which everyone though was terrific, many of my friends mentioned that Sydney was a changed person. They didn’t realize she was so grown up. They didn’t know that she was such an interesting person.
I told each of them that it wasn’t Syd that was so interesting (because she is). It was them. They way a party works is that when you find someone fascinating, you are finding what’s amazing in yourself. If it wasn’t for you, I said, Sydney could not have shined the way she did. Light attracts light. Even if you’re in a bad mood or feeling bad about yourself, if you open the door a crack, the air with the light will find a way in.
I was lucky and proud to have filled the room with light. When I look back on it and other gatherings I’ve fostered, I have to realize that as down on myself as I can get, there is something that I found in these people. It’s not me. It’s them. I’m lucky to have found people who relate to each other. They are the special ones here.
They remind me every moment that whatever I happen to be going through that life goes on. We keep getting older. We keep going through the process of living—and dying. That’s really the beauty of it. With all the suffering in the world, we keep perpetuating the species. In the end, we will have to find answers and solutions to our present circumstances. We will or we won’t. But as long as there is light, such as if found in my family and friends, we have chance.
I’m a flawed person, even damaged. When things get a little rough, I have problems remember that it’s pretty damn great to be breathing. I also tend to forget that the suffering I’m going through will never happen again quite like this. I ought to celebrate it in its uniqueness. I’m on the way to the grave and this is all I have.
This, in itself, leads me to think that each experience, good and bad, is something that provides a lesson. These little bits of knowledge are pieces of the process. My job is to accumulate as much as I can and convey that to others, as the real purpose of life is to make the passage of others through this travail a little easier.
And that’s what these people have in them. Virginia, Sydney, and Nick understand on some level they are some of the special people. They lead the ranks of friends and family that make my life wonderful. I don’t think I could do it on my own.