Listen, I know this sounds cheesy. Like I’m one of “those” people. You know the ones. They talk about how wonderful their life is and they make it seem like nothing ever goes wrong. Trust me, my life isn’t anywhere near perfect. There’s always drama somewhere. I have some health problems. But in the big picture I have a loving family, a roof over my head and food on the table. I have little about which to really complain. People all over the world are just happy to wake up another day. I count my blessings every day, in every way. I live an amazing life. Truly.
But there are moments when everything that is good collides in to one glorious day. Or four.
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m dreaming. That my good fortune is really the plot of a great novel and I’m just watching the televised version.
My most recent birthday was one of those moments.
Here’s the thing. I turned 49 last month.
One year before 50.
In November, when I realized the big day was coming, I could feel myself filling with some anxiety. Am I where I am supposed to be? Doing what I am supposed to do? Am I running out of time? Before I crawled into my depression cave, I decided I better come up with something to look forward to. While sitting with some friends, I brainstormed. Go to the 49th state? I love Alaska, but I’d rather go there in summer. Go watch a 49ers game? I’m too much of a Seahawks fan to make that happen. But what about the miner-49er thing? What about California? I’ve never been to San Francisco…..What if I did 49 things I have never done? There are lots of things I’ve never done – so it would take me all year to get it done and that would keep my mind off the whole mortality thing.
I decided to kick off my “49 and Fabulous tour” with a trip to San Francisco. I was going to go with a bunch of girl friends. Then one girl friend… then she had to work. I went by myself and it was possibly one of the best weekends of my life!
I started off the adventure by doing another thing of my “49 things I’ve never done” list. I flew in first class. I will certainly attempt to do that more often, when I can afford it. This time Alaska Airlines had a $50 upgrade, which I could manage. There is water waiting for you when you sit down, so you don’t even have to wait for water! Then, they bring your food on an actual plate. Fruit and cheese (two of my favorite things) on an actual plate and then they bring you more water in real glass. And there is leg room. Real leg room.
It was the most comfortable flight experience ever!
My friend Michael picked me up. He and I have been friends since our freshman year of college. If you don’t want to do the math, that means we’ve been friends for 30 years. He actually borrowed a friend’s car for the weekend because he knows I get nervous on public transportation. And he hates to drive. This is true friendship.
He lives in the Castro district of San Francisco. It’s this vibrant and colorful neighborhood. I’d seen it on television but it’s, of course, far more beautiful in real life. The first thing I noticed is that the city, for being a huge metropolitan city, is quiet. Most of the other big cities I’ve visited, there is this underlying hum. The buzz of millions of people doing millions of things. Seattle has it, Manhattan, Dublin – they all have a vibration to me. San Fransico? It wasn’t there. Perhaps it’s there on other days and it was just quiet because I was there on a holiday weekend? I don’t know, but this city was peaceful.
I found the people to be friendly as well. When I stopped into a drug store to get some cold medicine, the clerks were bright and one even helped me find a better price for the products I needed.
I’d heard the food was great in the Bay Area, but every city says that. I didn’t have one bad meal. We had fresh Mexican food and authentic Italian. Chinese food and great sandwiches. Everything seemed to be freshly made and served well.
One day we spent the morning in nearby Marin County where we spent the morning visiting four different cheese stores. I love cheese so we just enjoyed the smorgasbord of flavors at each site.
Three of the four were “organic”. I hate organic anything. Ok that’s a lie. I don’t mind things that are actually organic. Like soil and carbon based life forms. I hate organic for marketing sake. I promised Michael I wouldn’t get us kicked out of any cheese stores, so I smiled sweetly and tasted organic cheese. Most of it was really wonderful
After we filled up on great cheese – we went to the ocean and watched the water and a few surfers. We stopped at Golden Gate park on the way home and had a touching experience … which I will tell you about later.
Sunday morning, we got up early and went to mass at the city’s oldest catholic mission. It was simply magical. The homily was moving. We were able to tour the original section of the church. I loved it.
Sunday evening, one of my husband’s cousins invited us over for dinner. I’d only met her once and had never met her husband. They’re both in publishing and marketing so their advice dovetailed nicely into what Michael and I had talked about.
I truly believe when you’re on the right path, doors open up before you. You don’t have to go through all of them, but you just know you’re doing something right.
That’s what the whole weekend felt like.
Monday was my birthday -- so we started off with a full tea service and then an adventure in China town and beyond.
Monday night, we had Chinese dinner – my wish. Hubby’s cousins joined us and we had energetic and stimulating conversation. We laughed and brainstormed and got to know each other.
2016 is a year with an already packed schedule. I’m having a couple surgeries, my daughter graduates from high school, we are visiting family in Ireland -- all blessings, for sure, but we won’t have much down time.
The weekend in San Francisco gave me a chance to charge my batteries. To set some goals for myself and remind myself who I really am apart from my public persona. Counting my blessings will go far beyond the magic number of 49 – but my 49 and Fabulous tour kick – off was a great way to start off 2016.
Golden Gate State Park inside San Fransciso has long been on my bucket list. I didn’t get spend a ton of time there, but what I did see touched my heart in very profound ways.
We visited the National Aid Memorial Grove. This area is dedicated to the people in this country whose lives were lost and touched by the Aids epidemic and beyond. Stepping into the grove is like stepping into a living breathing prayer. There is a sense of sadness there, yes. But even the sadness is wrapped in hope as if each plant and treat has cradled the lost in a tight bundle of Golden Love. Michael explained to me how this community, especially the Castro District where he lives, became family. Many of the people who were sick with the disease were separated both physically and emotionally from their biological families. When that was the case, the community stepped in. They provided food and shelter for each other. Drove each other two and from doctors. Held each other when the illness or the loss became unbearable. They fought for each other and the right to live and die with dignity and without jugdement. In the heart of the grove there is an stream bed. People stack rocks there to symbolize prayers