Another Birthday Coming Up

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You are reading this, God willing, on Feb. 28, 2014, but I wrote it on the evening of Dec. 24, 2013, the evening before the day of the birth of Our Lord and a time, I felt, for reflection and a counting of blessings because my birthday was coming up soon.

As I sit here in our little living room just eight feet from my beloved wife, Loretta, I am supremely aware of those blessings. This room is more than just a room; it is a record of more than half a century of joyous marriage.

Everywhere I look I see memories. Memories of being so close to each other that for a long, long time we have been like a single mind in two bodies.

Just to my left stands a 26-inch-tall replica of the Venus de Milo — a thing I love all the more because I bought it while in Venice, away from home and sad, but able to imagine the way Lolly would smile when she saw it.

I could start now and spend days describing the other things that have similar meaning in this room and throughout our little house. Everything within these walls has meaning.

We are surrounded by memories of times gone by, of moments of love, of moments irreplaceable.

Yes, I sit here surrounded by riches. And that’s what I’d like to talk to you about.

Riches. Riches beyond belief.

You surely must know that neither of us — you and I — is rich in the sense we usually use the word: to describe having far more than needed.

Or are we? I suspect it depends on who we compare ourselves with.

As I sit here on this comfortable chair I am warm and dry, out of the wind, covered against the frost slowly creeping across the yard. I eat very little, but that’s a matter of choice. I could, if I wished, eat until I ballooned up another five sizes. I could drink hot things or cold things, all I wanted and whenever I wanted. If I wanted something sweet it would be mine in the time it takes to go get it.

Lolly and I are watching André Rieu and his orchestra on our large screen TV during their “Christmas Around the World” performance in Europe. We could switch, if we wanted, to a dozen or more of his other performances on DVD, or switch to many other things, things recorded just so that you and I can be entertained any way we want, any time we want.

We could turn on the radio or the stereo.

We could read.

We could pick up a phone and talk with someone halfway around the earth.

Or sleep.

Or do nothing.

Well, you get the point.

Like you, we are rich in a way that people just a few decades back never dreamt of being rich. And rich in a way that the vast majority of people on this planet are NOT rich.

And if it came to a comparison with the other creatures of this earth ....

The elk who come into my yard to eat apples would be grateful — if they could think in terms like “grateful” — if they were certain that this time tomorrow they would have a full belly, and if they could be equally certain that they would not be the cause of a full feeling in some other creature’s belly.

I am reading a book written in 1916 by Matilda Churchill, who spent 45 years as a missionary in India. I just finished reading a part where she speaks of the conditions of the people — the mud huts, the dirt, the filth, the hunger, the sorrow, the eyes filled with fear of what tomorrow might bring.

I know that look. I have been there. I have seen it. Twice, I have been standing right next to a man and talking to him when his eyes rolled up and he dropped like a felled tree. When I asked what happened, the other men just said, “Typhoid fever, Sahib. It is like that.”

And when I asked if the man would be all right, all I got was shrug of shoulders, a casual maybe. In one case the answer was yes. In the other, no.

If you are reading this on Feb. 28, 2014, then yesterday was my 82nd birthday — provided I am still here, which seems relatively likely at this moment. 

But, Johnny, that will mean that I have lived twice the number of years that those people who worked for me back there in India looked forward to living.

All because I was so very careful when I chose where I would be born.

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