For as long as I can remember, my birthday has always required that I take some time to draw away from people, become quiet, and send prayers of gratitude for and toward the woman who gave me life. I think of her on other days of the year to be sure, but on this day, because we shared it, because it is the day only we share, because she was the mystery of my life, I need the quiet to give thanks, to revere, to wish her well.
It’s not a habit most other people ever understood. They might claim to understand the need but they could really only understand that it existed and grant acceptance. They could not begin to conceive of the need for silent connection across whatever the unknown distance was, the intensity of the drive toward reverence, how wounding the thought of being denied the meditation is.
Over the years the ritual has had different forms as I matured. It went from childish daydreams, to grieving a loss, to formal prayer, to longing, to wishes for her peace and well-being. Sometimes it was all at once. Always, it was wrapped in silence. Usually, in solitude.
I don’t recall which year, but in recent ones, perhaps it was the birthday after I’d been declared cancer-free, I took my period of quiet and sent out the wishes for my birthmother’s health in all manners, for her happiness, and that she’d somehow know I was grateful to her. The words arose in my spirit, “Don’t you think it’s time you tell her that yourself?” Hhhmm, maybe it was. But still I waited.
The last two years, I actually invited people into my ritual. I’d found a local labyrinth and wanted to walk it as my birthday mediation. The first year I asked a dear friend to join me, one who I knew enjoyed meditative practices and who, for different reasons, had her own need to draw away for quiet reflection. We walked in silence following the path that turned in and around on itself bringing us close only to separate us greatly within the maze even though we remained a constant number of steps away from each other. The metaphor for the twists and turns life takes us on as we travel was rich. My friend and I embraced upon reaching the end then basked in a few more quiet moments before exiting the path.
Last year I asked my daughter to walk it with me. She’d been through some deep trials and I knew the labyrinth was a place of refuge for her. She asked if her friend could join us. The three of us traced the winding labyrinth in silence, each alone with her own thoughts but walking together to the end. Again we paused and shared hugs at the center of the maze before departing. There was a sweetness to sharing the walk with young women just beginning their adult journeys. What I held in my heart, was I had chosen to begin the journey an active search to finally thank my birthmother. It was indeed time I told her myself rather than sending those thoughts and wishes on the unknown winds.
What I did not know was a year later the ritual would be altered forever by having the mystery answered, by being welcomed into a space that had always been reserved for me. And so, on October 12, 2017, forty-nine years after being sent home with a family who could keep me safe and provide what my birth mother could not, I sat at her breakfast table. In pjs , robes, and slippers we sipped coffee and tea considering what the day ahead would hold. She and her husband assured me that though they had ideas I was free to decline any or all of them because my comfort and happiness with the day was paramount to them. I said all their ideas seemed perfectly lovely and I welcomed them. I told them about my ritual, admitted a sense of unease about abandoning it completely because I still had need for the quiet even though I was sitting before them and able to directly convey my lifelong gratitude for her selfless choice to protect my welfare. There were smiles and comments affirming my need. We almost moved thoughtlessly into the next topic but I said, “Wait. This is significant. We need to take a moment to hold this momentous occasion with reverence. I’ve waited forty-nine years to say thank you to your face.” Then looking directly into the eyes of the woman who carried me and sent me to my family without ever being able to see or touch me, and with tears in my own eyes, I mouthed, “Thank you.”
Later that day, in between activities, we took a drive out to Presque Isle, a peaceful forested park with paths along Lake Superior. We had about a half hour before dinner reservations and I had not yet had my quiet. I asked if we could take the time we had to do a walking meditation on the path here. It was a straighter path than the labyrinth, the curves more gentle. My birthmother, her husband, and I walked along in silence breathing in the lake breeze, watching sunlight filter through trees, feeling the crunch of leaves underfoot, hearing the lap of waves on the shore. At the end, we embraced. I felt the contentment of knowing my gratitude had been both given and received, of a mystery being resolved, of being received with gladness like a new child.
I believe the ritual will remain for as many years as I do. Though it is transformed from one of mystery to one of wonder, it will always carry gratitude.