I really should be writing my Maui News column instead of this letter, but I haven’t been able to focus on anything other than your birthday and the fact that I now have a (gasp, choke, sigh) middle-aged son.
Oh, I know I’ve often repeated the old saws: age is just a state of mind; you’re only as old as you think you are; age only matters if you’re a cheese (or a bottle of wine). And you and I have the perfect personification of that mentality in your grandmother, who turns 94 in a couple of weeks.
Yet I find myself lamenting, even resenting, my own chronologic state. Even though it’s been almost two years since I hit the Big Six-Oh, I still haven’t come to terms with that milestone. How could you possibly be in your 40s when, in my mind’s eye, I’m barely there myself? At the same time, I look at Grandma Yogi and wonder how I ended up feeling older than my nonagenarian mother. It’s very confusing.
But never mind my age-related angst; this is your day, your 42nd birthday. I feel a little guilty for not having thrown a yakudoshi party for you last year. Remember, we talked about it a few years ago, when you asked me about that Japanese tradition?
For over a thousand years, the Japanese have believed that certain years in a person’s life are bound to bring misfortune. It’s just part of the natural balance of life. Yakudoshi refers to these “years of calamity.” For men, yakudoshi years are 25, 42 and 61. But the Japanese also count the year before your birth as part of your life. That’s why yakudoshi parties, to ward off bad luck, are thrown for men before their 41st and 60th birthdays.
Yakudoshi is also said to represent the entrance into three stages of life: maturity, middle age and old age. Curiously, the yakudoshi years for women are 19, 33 and 37. Maybe that explains my current state of mind. Apparently I’ve been a senior citizen for 25 years already.
On the other hand, historical documents from various time periods denote different ages of yakudoshi. I found references to Buddhist teachings that list no less than a dozen such years, starting at 7 and ending with 105. I can’t help but wonder what calamity would mean to a 105-year-old. But if you make it that far, I promise to throw a yakudoshi party for you in 2081.
Lately I’ve been having that recurring dream I described to you some years ago. The setting changes, but the action is always the same. Your toddler self runs to me and I scoop you into my arms to rock you to sleep. You smell like baby sweat and cereal, and just before you drift off, you look me in the eye and reach up to touch my cheek. I nibble on your chubby little fingers, making you giggle. I always wake up too soon, before either of us falls asleep in the dream, and when I do, I’m left with a bittersweet longing for the days when you and I were each other’s world.
I’ve heard it said that, to a mother, a son is never a fully grown man; and a son is not a fully grown man until he understands and accepts this about his mother.
Our worlds now revolve separately, 4,200 miles apart, but still in synch. Though we see each other only once every couple of years, I feel as close to you as I did 40 years ago, when we shared Grandma’s rocking chair at bedtime. I am so proud of the man, the husband, the father you’ve become.
Happy birthday, son. May you be free from calamity for the rest of your years.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.