Happy birthday to me.
I just turned 50, the first birthday my mother never celebrated.
She died June 6, 1996, seven and a half months shy of her 50th birthday. We hadn’t made concrete plans to celebrate when she died. We thought we had more time.
I hadn’t made concrete plans to celebrate either, with the exception of a cruise planned by my high school girlfriends, and I’m glad of that - I turned 50 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in Georgia we were all under a “shelter in place” order on my birthday. So instead of dinners out or lunches out or anything out, I had a few Zoom happy hours, lots of cookies and flowers delivered, and many, many Facebook messages.
I didn’t sleep well the night before my birthday. This was the first birthday without any guideposts. Up to now, I’ve known approximately what I’d look like, how I might behave, what might be in store for me. But my major guidepost and light – my mother – never got to be this age. There are no maps from here. There is nothing but empty space.
To me, it’s like a scene in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” where Indy has to cross a wide chasm, one seemingly without a bridge. According to his notes, it’s called The Leap of Faith, and his father (who is gravely injured) calls out to him, “You must believe, boy. You must believe.”
Indy holds one hand to his heart, takes a deep breath, and kind of goose steps out into the unknown.
That’s where I feel I am.
In the movie, it turns out the rocks of the bridge are made to blend in with the surroundings so it only appears that there is no bridge, but in reality, it’s there, and it’s solid, and it’s connected on both sides. We don’t see that – and neither does Indy – until he takes that first step out onto solid ground.
I think there’s solid ground in front of me, I just don’t know where it goes. I’m currently unemployed, so I don’t know what the rest of my career looks like. I’m single, so I don’t know if there’s a partnership ahead of me or not. I don’t know how I’ll age, or what old-age problems I might have. I don’t know what path I’ll take or how to get there, or where it leads, or how it all ends.
No one does, really, but I’ve always been a planner, so this is making me very, very uncomfortable.
I planned to be a journalist, starting in ninth grade. I went to high school, took Journalism, wrote for the school paper, and became one of its editors my senior year.
I went to the University of Texas, and was one of two sophomores who got into the prestigious, audition-only broadcast journalism program in the College of Communications. Out of hundreds of candidates, they took 24 my semester, and I was one of them. My friend Monica was the other sophomore. We planned it that way.
I worked at the college radio station doing news, and ended up News Director. I wanted to work at CNN, so I applied out of school, and after the Gulf War hiring freeze, I moved to Atlanta to work there.
Everything has been so well mapped out to this point, and now? Well, now we’re in uncharted territory. I suppose we’ll see how it goes from here.
Indy, by the way, walked across the chasm, braving the unknown, and made it to the other side. And when he did, he turned around and threw sand over the bridge so he could see it better on his return, and there would be no hesitation.
My mother would have been the one to throw sand on the bridge for me, and now she’s gone.
I guess I’ll just have to take that first step out into the unknown.
Here goes nothing.