My Birthday

Happy birthday, Moldova! 

Happy birthday, Moldova! 

Tomorrow marks one month from my birthday run, the last of nine months of training and the day I attempt to run my age up Mt. Moosilauke, reaching the summit in fewer minutes than my 58 years.

August 27 is not that auspicious a date, honestly. It’s the birthday of Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel, philosopher of history and history’s most unreadable philosopher. And in the year 410 on this date, the Visigoths stopped sacking Rome, having run out of barbarian activities.

On the other hand it's my birthday, which is something. I’ve always made a big deal of it. My parents, who had lived in Maine as newlyweds, would serve lobster and clams. (Lobsters were cheap in their day.) My wife carries on the grand celebration. She has an enabling personality.

August 27 is also Moldova’s independence day. You can see why I make a big deal of it.  

Dorothy was with me on my 28th birthday when hundreds of thousands of people came to the Capitol Mall to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Martin Luther King’s 1963 march for “Jobs and Freedom.” We walked down to the Mall and I stood on a postal box while Jesse Jackson gave one of the great speeches of his life.

“We’re here for jobs!” he shouted, and the huge crowd roared.

“Jus-tice!” he bellowed, pronouncing the word like he had invented it himself.

In the lull before the third applause word I yelled, “And it’s my birthday!” and half a million people seemed to cheer me.

It’s hard to top a celebration like that, but this year I plan to try.

August 27 is also the birthday of Lyndon Johnson, Jackson’s uncertain ally and a man of ambition and noble failure. Some Christians celebrate August 27 as a feast day for Margaret the Barefooted, who apparently wasn’t a barefoot runner but walked about unshod in fourteenth-century Italy in solidarity with beggars.

It’s the 238th day of the year, and my favorite slice of summer in New Hampshire--an elegiac time when the swamp maples blush early and the leaves of still-green trees get ragged from the bugs. The nights turn cold and summer edges downward toward autumn, toward school, toward winter beyond, toward the march of birthdays to the final one.

Late summer here is like a fine pear, perfect only when it tilts toward the overripe.  The water is still warm, the bullfrogs sober, the yellowjackets drunk.

On my birthday I gain a year. More important, I gain a minute.