Last week was the 37th reunion of my high school class, and the date coincidentally coincided with my birthday. When the rumor of the impending celebration began wafting through cyberspace, I’d been excited and made tentative plans to attend – an overdue treat to myself. As things turned out, however, the main event was held on a Friday night, and I sent in my regrets.
While disappointed that I couldn’t attend, I harbored no hard feelings; after all, the organizer for the event is not Jewish, and she was given no reason to consider another night of the week. From the pictures, it was clear that Betsy did an outstanding job, and the weekend was a tribute to the joy, laughter, and fondness with which we geezers-nee-baby boomers still had for one another after almost forty years.
Still, I felt a little sorry for myself. I wanted to be there! Having reached a station in life so far removed from the melodramatic angst of high school, it would have been fun to flaunt my well-earned gray hairs and too-soft waistline in front of and with other aging buddies who have grown comfortable in their own not-yet-decrepit bodies.
Back home in Jerusalem, my gentleman friend arranged to do something “special” for my not-insignificant 55th birthday, only instructing me to wear “something suitable for sports.” This invoked a little (lot of) trepidation, because I’m relatively new to the world of physical fitness, and I was hoping to celebrate my birthday in a more traditional manner, including fancy dinner, wine, and several tiny wrapped boxes filled with sparkly things.
Clearly, Mr. Creativity had a different idea.
In an undisputedly Men-Are-From-Mars-Women-Are-From-Venus moment, I was driven to a lonely stretch in Jerusalem’s Talpiot section, where, much to my dismay, fifteen men and women were doing leg stretches and getting ready to hop on their bicycles. Everyone was wearing appallingly unflattering helmets, and I immediately thought of the magnificent job I’d done with the blow dryer only two hours earlier. Praying for a miracle, I exclaimed aloud, “Oh, too bad. We don’t have bikes! Let’s eat,” to which Mr. Creativity responded, “I rented them for us. This is gonna be great.”
“Great” is clearly a subjective concept. The guide issued a lot of instructions, and I heard nothing once he casually mentioned that the ride was going to take three hours. Three hours! Like a rat in a maze, I felt trapped and keenly aware that some terrific humiliation was in store for me. Doing some grade-school math, I deduced that I was at least twenty years older than the woman closest to my age and immediately looked at my significant other and asked myself several questions that I cannot commit to print. Let it suffice to say that I was having serious doubts about any long-term plans I might have entertained prior to his turning into a chubby and decidedly-Semitic Lance Armstrong. . . . . . .
Further adding to my nervousness was that the first twenty minutes of the adventure required little pedaling and appeared to be all downhill. Which could only mean that the return would require some fancy gear work or alerting the local medics to find me somewhere near the Arab village of Silwan. Neither choice felt appealing.
I tried to be pleasant. I even turned off my Blackberry a few times, so I wouldn’t be distracted by hysterical pleas from my children asking where they might find some paired socks. I tried to be “all there” and appear truly grateful for the ingenious thought that went into this celebration of my birthday! (I did wonder, however, why we were doing this for his birthday, since he clearly has a penchant for self-flagellation and I never indicated such a preference.) “Oh, thank you! Thank you!” I murmured with a near-sincere smile, at the same time praying that I’d actually live to tell the story. Nevertheless, he believed every word because of the exploding endorphins coursing through his body.
We wheeled through the Christian Quarter and the Moslem Quarter. And just as I was mentally exploring several “break up” options (only because I’m scared he is going to register me for the 2011 Ironman World Championship Triathlon), we came upon the magnificent vista of the Western Wall. Just after midnight, I was grateful for the respite, since by now I was not only sore, but I had a permanent dent in my right shoulder from carrying the loathed-racer up and down the winding stone steps of the Old City.
The tour leader’s voice was easy to ignore. Wondering if I would ever see my children again, his voice droned in the background, muttering something about miracles and surprises. Barely conscious, I imagined that he intoned my name. “And we are celebrating someone’s birthday, it seems. Congratulations, Andrea!”
Through my sweat-swollen eye-lids, I observed my friend popping open a huge bottle of champagne, passing around bags of candy and additional bottles of liquor while, simultaneously, leading this group of strangers in a rousing version of “Happy Birthday to You.” I was appropriately stunned and, even more important, truly moved. Downright teary, since you’re asking.
C.U.I. (Cycling Under the Influence) is not recommended even for seasoned riders. For a woman like me, both prison and a fine should be the part of the sentencing. Still, I made it back. Crawling most of the way back to the starting point in Talpiot, I had a little trouble remembering my name; but like a real trooper, I remained upright for the seven seconds it took to arrange a group photo and listen to anemic suggestions about “staying in touch.” Yeah? I don’t think so.
Missing the reunion stung a bit. But sitting on a grassy promenade that overlooks our beautiful city at two in the morning and guzzling ice-slush margaritas is a pretty darn good consolation prize. Even the urban grime that soiled my face and the coif-damage caused by a too-dorky-for-words cycling helmet did nothing to dampen the joy in my friend’s face as he proudly reviewed the planning of such a memorable birthday.
Revisiting the past is good — when it is good. A marvelous discovery, however, on the eve of my 55th year is that there are wonderful memories waiting to be created with the unfolding of new friendships and new tomorrows.