My 51st Birthday

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

April 2, 2019

by Naomi Downey

On Birthdays and Being Sick.

Birthdays are silly things. It’s that time of year again, so it’s up for review. I am always a bit relieved to get to the day after.

I attended a class a few weeks ago at Enlighten Studio in Newcastle. A women’s Qoya and writing class. I had no idea what to expect, but it seemed in good timing as I am feeling pulled to write (despite my belief in my ability)…And besides, I knew I must take classes at some point at Enlighten Studio. I saw the owner, Cecilia Kay Neff, dance at the Newcastle Community Festival a couple years ago. As it happened, I stood just behind her as her girls dance class preformed. Like a symphony conductor she guided them through their routine from the sideline. I was mesmerized by her presence and connection to the girls up on the stage. The girls were delightful, but it was the combination of students and teacher that made it beautiful. And then Cecilia danced. A tango with a partner followed by a solo improvisation. I was in tears. She was so beautiful and sensual and feminine and strong and confident and vulnerable. I knew in that moment that at some point I would learn from her, because I want to be more of those.

But no need to rush into things. The laws of the universe require that following an expansion, there must be a contraction. It’s natural. It’s to be expected. Maybe we’d be better off if we understood this better and honored the process, even celebrated it. And scheduled it…

This brings me back to where I am and birthdays and being sick. This is day four of feeling miserable. And I don’t like it or appreciate it.

Day one summary:

The rains come again.

I died

and fell into the couch.

And I made this discovery: the magic sink (our kitchen sink) does not work when mom is incapacitated…

Back to the Qoya class. Near the end of the class the instructor, Betsy Blankenbaker Murphy, asked who had birthdays coming up or recent. Fitting that it was me. She had me step out of the room so she could direct the rest of the women on the next exercise. The Enlighten Studio is in the historic bank building of Newcastle and I waited in the 1800’s bank vault with my hands over my ears until summoned back to the group. Betsy stood in front of me, looking straight into my eyes she gently asked me, “What is your best birthday memory?”

Mind you, it’s enough to be in front of the group. I am actually extremely shy (an overly simplified explanation) and I felt my ability to think slipping away. I was grateful when I was able to come up with an answer- that my 50th was extraordinary. I claimed the whole year to celebrate the momentous achievement of 50 years and to mark my next 50. I ran a 50 mile race (came in 5th!); hiked 50 plus miles of the PCT with girlfriends celebrating their 50th year; walked 500 plus miles across Spain on the Camino del Norte with my two teenage boys (It’s own story coming to a blog near you).

And then Betsy asked me again, “What’s your best birthday memory?” Oh, I must have answered wrong! Various members of ‘my committee’ began to chatter all at once. Maybe she meant my actual birth day….

You know what I mean by ‘my committee’, right? The myriad of voices in my head always ready with their opinions of my worth and such. So anyway, my committee goes to work attempting to find a suitable memory to share so I can “get it right” and sit back down…after all, I’ve had 50 birthdays-one should stand out. Or at least come to mind! And nothing does. Oh, this is not good. And I stand there and look into Betsy’s eyes. Remember, this is all in the most loving way in a very safe space. I shrug my shoulders. And she asks me a 3rd time and the tears begin to fall. I am left with lots to ponder as my 51st birthday quickly approaches.

How do I keep the question- What do I want for/to do for my birthday? Nothing else. I am not required to make anyone else happy on my birthday. This is about me. The funny thing is that truly, I am sure, that everyone only wants me to be happy. It’s such a silly thing. I want everyone to be happy, so I try to figure our what will make them feel happy that I am happy…but, in the round robin I take myself through, I forget what I want. How to admit that to myself? How to accept that I am actually easily satisfied and it’s simple and small things I love most. But, for this birthday, I must make it memorable for me or else my birthday slides by unnoticed, unmemorable. Having a party is not how I want to celebrate- too much of me up front…Although, the party following my 50 mile run sure was fun!

So, I pondered my birthday. How do I want to claim it, make it memorable, for me? The South Fork American River Trail had been coming to mind for weeks- like it was calling me. It had been months since I had been there. It’s a beautiful trail that goes from Greenwood in Coloma downstream along and above the river, down to the Salmon Falls bridge and Folsom Lake. I spent many days over many years on this stretch of river in a younger version of myself, kayaking and rafting. Fun times. The trail is a lovely way to enjoy the river from a dryer perspective.

I decided that this was how I wanted to celebrate my birthday- take myself for a run on the SFAR trail. I wasn’t certain how far I wanted to go, what would be far enough, but not too far…And because I knew this birthday needed to stand out, at least for myself, I decided I must document my experience. Use it to grow. Lean out of my comfort zone. The run itself would not do that, in and of itself, but it could be the perfect vehicle. Exposing myself on video, though, would most definitely challenge me.

It is amazing how different we each are. What’s easy for one may be the most challenging thing for another. So easy to judge. Others, and most certainly myself. That committee again!

I enjoy long runs because they give me time for the committee to work through stuff. The physicalness of the activity has the tendency to speed up the process. Everyone gets time to chime in…I’m tired! Let’s stop. This is too hard. You’re so slow! You're walking too much. You are not good enough…blah blah blah. I can just run and breath and look around and the words flow through. Uh huh, I hear you. And sometimes enough strength builds and I can say- Thank you, enough, meeting over! Other times Committee Member Despair takes control and all I want to do is lie down right there in the trail and cry. What could be better than to fall to the ground and put my face in the dirt? I recently watched 3 year old Gracie do just that in the parking lot of our office. It was awesome! But then, alas, we are adults…my Committee Member Don’t Make A Scene saves me. You know, another runner, or many most likely, will come upon you in the dirt and there will be a great scene. Oh, my goodness, not a scene! "Are you OK? Are you hurt?" I will respond, Oh, gosh, I’m sorry to surprise you like this. Of course I’m fine, just getting up now…

How ridiculous it this?! Don’t let anyone see?! Don’t show- your despair, your pain, or for that matter, anything real. Real is messy. Unpredictable. Can be shocking. Is usually beautiful. Why do we/I go to such lengths to hide it?

Anyway, this day of my birth 51 years previously, following another night of pounding rain, dawned clear and sunny. A rare day in our very wet winter. A bit chilly, but warming nicely by the time I got to my start. I had my refueling set at around mile 12 which was also my turnaround. Off I went, up rocky slopes, through flowering manzanita, river views, open fields and oak groves, single track and fire roads, stream crossings. 5 ½ hours of time with me. And the running was fantastic! And most certainly the easy part!

Blue skies and flowering manzanita!

I returned home with barely enough time to ready for my afternoon office hours. Then had the great honor of entraining a number of our lovely practice members, and dinner at my mother-in-law’s house.

A most delicious day that will be remembered for years to come. A day about celebrating, my way, and a day about stretching. Into more of who I can be. More real. More exposed. And kind of messy….

You can watch the short video Andrew put together from my trail footage here. I will leave it at that because the committee is beginning to squawk- It’s not very good. My hair looks terrible. It’s obvious I don’t know what I’m doing…blah blah blah.

Embrace the life you love!

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