The Pearl, vol. 81: A birthday with the Buddha

Dear Oysters, 

Friday was my 32nd birthday. It's funny how certain numbers "sound" when you say them out loud. While 30 sounded quite different from 29, 32 doesn't sound that different from 31. Nonetheless, I can't help but notice a certain fatness in the number of years on Earth that I'm accumulating. 

For me, birthdays are simultaneously a celebration of life and a reminder of mortality. The heart-rending tradition of singing a song and blowing out candles—the little flames extinguished, the familiar smell of melting wax—speaks to the tender fragility of our lives. We make a wish, expressing hope for a future that is not guaranteed. Birthdays bring to my mind a sobering calculus of life and death: when my mother was 32, she had only eighteen years of life left, although none of us knew that then. My cousin Patrick, who died last year, was 31. For the first time since 1985, when we were born just two months apart, I've surpassed him in age.

With each birthday, I know it could have been different. I have been blessed to remain on this planet. 

I wanted to find a way to celebrate my birthday in the Mysore room, where I practice yoga on Friday afternoons. First, I shopped around for vegan treats that are easy to hand out to sweaty yogis, but nothing quit fit the bill. So finally, I decided to buy a small bouquet of flowers—cheerful yellow-green daisies with bright orange centers—for the altar. Before most of the class had arrived, I placed my flowers by the Buddha statue. They beamed beside my teacher, Cory, as he led our opening chants from the harmonium. 

As I began my sun salutations, the daisies were a burst of color and hope. My energy buzzed. These are my birthday sun salutations! I realized, feeling a childlike excitement. With a rush of emotion, I thought of my mom, the person who gave me life, and all the sun salutations she did in her lifetime. I never quite imagined I would turn 32 this way: motherless, childless, happy and free, inhaling and exhaling in a small, steamy room in Washington D.C. And I'm so grateful.

Photo via the wonderful  Flow Yoga Center.

Photo via the wonderful Flow Yoga Center.

I once heard Cory explain that Surya Namaskar—usually translated as "sun salutation"—could also be translated as "denial of ego; affirmation of faith." Every once in awhile, as I practice yoga, I feel the meaning of those words. I feel myself disappear. There is no more "me," no more Ellen with her stories and her questions and her insecurities. There is just pure being. There is just this body that I inhabit. There is just this life, one breath at a time. 

Stay salty, Oysters, and here's to another trip around the sun. 

PS: I don't post every volume of The Pearl online—some go only to subscribers. If you'd like to receive each letter, you can subscribe here.