35

One of the songs on the girls’ current (constantly played) music class CD is an instrumental version of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts.” One day in the car I started singing along with it, mashing up the traditional Shaker lyrics with some of the “Lord of the Dance” version, plus a little fake Copland-esque trumpet fanfare.

Ingrid was intrigued, and from then on she wanted me to sing along every time the tune came on. She requested a capella performances at bathtime, as well.

I looked up the traditional version so I could sing it right. Hopefully no horse-drawn copyright lawyer will appear on my doorstep on account of my posting some of the lyrics:

‘Tis the gift to be simple,
’tis the gift to be free,
’tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
It will be in the valley of love and delight.

‘Tis the gift to be loved and that love to return,
‘Tis the gift to be taught and a richer gift to learn,
And when we expect of others what we try to live each day,
Then we’ll all live together and we’ll all learn to say,

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed.
To turn, turn will be our delight,
‘Til by turning, turning we come round right

After one bathtub singing session, I repeated, “the valley of love and delight.” Ingrid grinned up at me, eyes wide open. “What do you think that would feel like? What would be in that valley?”

“Toys,” she said decisively. “And ice cream.”

Today is my birthday. It was an ordinary day, mostly, and a good one. Lots of people went out of their way to wish me a happy day, or to deliver me chocolate. I spent the evening with some of my favorite people in the world, including—briefly, by phone—A.

Thirty five is halfway to seventy, and it’s halfway between thirty and forty. It’s almost two times eighteen. It would be easy to feel too old. But mostly I feel hopeful, lucky, and wise. I’m a year saggier, but also—ha!—thinner. I’m a year less clever and a year less cool, but hopefully also a year kinder and a year wiser, and that much closer to finding a good way through this life. Good birthday gifts, all.

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