That would be today, and for the next 364 days until I turn 65.
I love birthdays on Facebook. People from all the nooks, crannies, and corners of my life check in with birthday greetings and remind me of all the worlds I’ve wandered through and the amazing people I’ve met. This makes me think of all the amazing people I’ve never met and probably will never meet, which makes me think that the world is probably going to make it after all, even if I sometimes have my doubts.
On my timeline I’ve posted a few photos from way back when, waaa-aa-aaay back when. No one alive today knew me then. Both my parents are dead, my four uncles likewise, and since I’m the oldest of four, my siblings either weren’t born yet or were too young to remember.
I was an only child for 16 months. I don’t remember that either.
Come to think of it, I didn’t know me then either , but at least I have the pictures.
My father, Robert Shaw Sturgis (better known as Bob), graduated from architectural school a few days after I was born. I didn’t know what an architect was. He didn’t know what he was in for.
This is me and my mother in 1952. My brother Roger was born in October of that year, but it’s hard to tell how pregnant my mother is. The foliage looks like late spring, so maybe I was about one? That’s my parents’ Studebaker in the background. I’m not sure where the photo was taken. Maybe at my grandmother’s?
And here’s me at about two and a half:
This wouldn’t crack me and everybody else up so much if I’d gone on to become, say, a rocket scientist, a garbage collector, or a math teacher. But I didn’t. I went on to become a writer, editor, and all-around word person. My mother was a crackerjack typist, but I didn’t learn to type till I was an unemployable female college graduate of 25.
What I didn’t know about sexism, the work world, and life in general at that point would fill a book, but that’s not what this blog post is about.
What I’ve been thinking about on my 64th birthday is how lucky I was to be born where I was, in a small town west of Boston that was turning into a suburb. A town where war hadn’t come since about 1776. A town where the rule of law was taken for granted and police officers were friends of the family.
It wasn’t till I moved to Washington, D.C., for my first year of college that I began to realize that most people in the world, and many people in my own country, were not this lucky.
Earlier this year I edited a remarkable novel: A. E. Sawan’s Terrorist University. Paul, the protagonist, is an ordinary 10-year-old in a small, ordinary Lebanese town when the civil war arrives in 1975. His family loses everything. They move several times, in flight for their lives. Paul eventually becomes a counter-terrorist operative and has many harrowing adventures and narrow escapes.
Then he finds himself on a flight to Canada, where his middle-aged seatmate asks for a pen to fill out his landing form. But Paul’s pen won’t do, because it writes in black ink. The fellow prefers blue ink. After borrowing a pen from the flight attendant, he proudly shows Paul his landing form, completed in blue ink.
Paul is astonished.
Because at that moment I realized something that I had lost as a child.
I had spent the better part of my life dodging bullets and trying to survive in order to get my revenge. My dilemma was how to survive to the end of the day, because I might get my head blown off at any moment. The Canadian man next to me also had a dilemma: “How do I complete my landing form?”
Black ink or blue ink? A very hard choice to make. I had this big grin on my face. I closed my eyes, put my head back, and started thinking. This Canada place must be so easy to live in; how lucky these people are. In life you can get lucky just by being born in the right place.
On June 8, 1951, I was born in one of the right places. I was lucky.
I feel the same way, Susanna – lucky to have had an uneventful childhood, and especially to have landed on Martha’s Vineyard for my entire adult life – none of it was planned – it was all luck (except when I said “sure” in the duck blind) 🙂
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Great post, Susanna.
I too grew up in a town that hadn’t seen war since 1776 right next door to you and went to school with the descendants of Ralph Waldo Emerson and learned to swim in Walden Pond. I shudder to think of being born some place else in the world as a woman. I actually do think of it a lot, and feel very grateful. It’s not perfect and we have a ways to go but please don’t let me wake up in Afghanistan.
I wouldn’t mind waking up in Canada or Norway (anywhere in Scandinavia for that matter) or Iceland. I’ve been thinking about how reading has expanded my awareness of just how lucky I am. If I’d been born in Lebanon or Syria or the Congo or the projects of Baltimore, I seriously doubt I would have reached 64. I’d have been lucky to reach 6.
Tomorrow at your place but still today here so I can send non-tardy wishes for a super duper year ahead. Cheers and barks from sally and Jess
Woo woo woo!
And then there’s too much choice. A friend of mine, who moved to Canada from Romania in the 1990s, still has an extremely difficult time making decisions. Way too many brands in the stores. I spent 5 hours waiting for him to decide whether to get a combination lock or a keyed lock for his gym locker. I just about tore my hair out. I finally stopped taking him shopping, and we are still friends.
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This is one of the attractions of living where I live. And of limiting my exposure to advertising, i.e., not having a TV. Fewer choices. When I go into huge stores off-island, I make a beeline for what I want and ignore everything else. It’s like having blinders on. This is why I love that “black ink or blue ink” story. It puts things in perspective.