Last weekend our adult children left their far-flung regions to unite and throw us a little party in honor of a recent milestone anniversary.
They text-managed a schedule of tasks, shopped for and prepared the food, and organized themselves into a catering quartet that seemed to mirror their birth order. (Son to daughter wearing apron: "What can I do?" Daughter to son: "Make me some coffee.")
They had to tell us what was happening (it was our house) but it came with a stern warning not to "help."
We didn't, and it was a total success from "Where do you keep the parchment paper?" to, "Should I save the salad?"
We never expected payback for the 102 (give or take) birthdays we've staged since they were babies, but we got it. We had not been expecting to be joyful and awed this weekend but we were.
It reminded me of something I learned recently at the salon, where I attend life school.
I sat a few chairs away from a woman who was my age or older, for whom the only word was "joyful." Elegant and engaging and animated, she told a long, funny story while the stylist worked and commented and laughed with her. She wasn't seizing or seeking attention. She held attention because she was just fun to listen to.
I saw another woman across from me, about the same age. She was dressed in jeans and flip flops with long wiry gray hair, and a face creased with what looked like too much very deep thinking. She talked quietly with her stylist about some event in her life, and though I couldn't hear the words (and I tried, readers) the tone was unmistakably disgruntled. Not sad or angry. Disgruntled.
I thought, what is it that makes us ride life like we do?
Some consider it the other way around - why does life ride us? - and only try not to stagger under its weight.
Others appear to argue with it, ever annoyed, ever anticipating the problems life hasn't, but might present.
Some walk companionably with it, tolerating its flaws and accepting its gifts.
I want to be that first woman – joyful, divested of enough hard things to draw a hand across my brow in a "whew" kind of way. Then I want to embrace the easier, surprising parts that arrive like bouquets of gratitude - thank yous from life for enduring and loving and celebrating it, for waiting and hurting through its moody turns, but always believing that every minute is worth the love you give it.
Life reminds me of children.
And bouquets of gratitude that look like surprise parties.