Growing up in the Devany family, I was beholden to my mother’s Look Beyond Yourself Birthday Tradition, which stemmed from her philosophy to always think about other people. On their one special day in the year, the birthday child had to buy (or make) gifts for their siblings. In my case, there were three. Grabbing anything off a shelf was not allowed, she wanted us to think about what each person would really enjoy. It was a lot of pressure, and some years we tried to outdo one another.
My second birthday without my father was yesterday. Last year’s was tough. I had no desire to celebrate. I let the phone ring without answering. I spent hours alone by a reservoir, watching birds. My gifts sat on the table unopened. Not until I saw two great egrets, one landing high in a tree while the younger one fished, did I realize the problem. I’d been waiting for something. When the elder flew off, as if confident that the younger bird would be okay on its own, I knew.
I’d been waiting for my dad to call and wish me a happy birthday.
Yesterday, I rose early to write. I wrote for four hours, my way of connecting with my father on the day I long for him the most. Then I thought about my mother’s birthday tradition. I looked beyond myself and discovered what makes a birthday joyous are simple, unexpected moments. When you find yourself cheering for others on your special day, and moments like these:
A momma bird laid her final egg in a nest atop our porch fan. My seven-year-old granddaughter made a sign, warning everyone to Not Turn on the Fan because babies are sleeping.
Ava and I wandered your yard, searching for hidden beauty. Both of us with cameras. She discovered tulips, which I don’t recall planting.
An overwhelming number of people wished me a happy birthday, which meant so much to me. Truly, I can’t thank you enough.
My eldest daughter scored a 97 in her nursing exam.
We saved a bumblebee that was trapped in our window.
Ava’s excitement over spotting birds in our yard—cardinals, yellow finch, hawks.
Gorgeous sunrise at the start of the day.
To be captured by a child’s wonder. “Grandma! Look how blue that flower is!”
The day ended with a wonderful Italian dinner out with my family. I returned home with my husband to find colored pencils strewn across our living room table, and a picture, Ava had made. Perhaps she knew what I’d wished for earlier that day when she picked up a dandelion. My greatest treasures are handmade by small hands with the purest of love.
“Grandma, do you know this is a wishing flower?” she had whispered, as if she held magic in her hands.