A month ago today, I celebrated my 44th birthday. Celebrate is perhaps too strong a word; facebook messages reminded me it was my birthday. Later, my kids sang happy birthday to me and we ate ice cream cake. Otherwise, it seemed like any other day and like any other age. No insight of great import or substance occurred to me. I was the same as when I had been 43 years old.
A few days ago, I started thinking about the idea of 44. The perfectness of the number, how it is 2 x 22 (and how 22 is 2 x 11), and how maybe the significance of each of those numbers has something to say to me now that I am at this age – 44.
Of course, figuring out the number scheme is momentous, almost as momentous as actually turning 44 – I am no mathematician. Just as I was beginning to think I had some new insight to pursue about aging, I remembered that Sandra Cisneros and Langston Hughes have been there, done that. Read, enjoy. My ode to forty-four “Definite Uncertainty” is a first draft–with more to come.
Excerpt from “Eleven” by Sandra Cisneros
What they don’t understand about birthdays and what they never tell you is that when you’re eleven, you’re also ten, and nine, and eight, and seven, and six, and five, and four, and three, and two and one. And when you wake up on your eleventh birthday you expect to feel eleven, but you don’t. You open your eyes and everything’s just like yesterday, only it’s today. And you are–underneath the year that make you eleven.
Like some days you might say something stupid, and that’s the part of you that’s still ten. Or maybe some days you might need to sit on your mama’s lap because you’re scared, and that’s the part of you that’s five. And maybe one day when you’re all grown up maybe you will need to cry like if you’re three, and that’s okay. That’s what I tell Mama when she’s sad and needs to cry. Maybe she’s feeling three.
Because the way you grow old is kind of like an onion or like the rings inside a tree truck or like my little wooden dolls that fit one inside the other, each year inside the next one. That’s how being eleven years old is.
“Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
An invitation to a 30th reunion
Who we think we are
Choices and accidents
Inertia and action
Probed, examined, or
hidden in memory
Lives braided, woven
Lives torn, mended
Not what we had expected
Or exactly as we had feared