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Archive for the ‘birthday’ Category

The path was familiar, but the terrain seemed unknown. The child’s hands brushed the long purple cat-tail grass, then caught a drifting dandelion head as it bobbed upon the blissful breeze, making a wish before releasing it to dance away towards the sun’s bright rays.

The sweet scene proved but momentary delusion. The jaded adult stared blankly, mocked by words that no longer flowed where gentle streams once meandered through forests towards some iconic tree, embellished with fanciful stories like kite tails caught in branches where only children dared to climb.

When the feathery dandelion dissolved from sight, small feet skipped the pine-needled path to the place where kite tails dangled like mosaic mobiles from ancient branches; small hands traced the textured bark like a puzzle to be solved or a tower to be climbed.

The memory of childhood was rusting and eroding, tarnished by trials too terrible for small minds to comprehend. Some part had passed into dispassionate past, moving almost beyond recall. Thoughts that once danced brightly on air now suspended dimly in dust, threadbare and motionless like a forgotten child’s toy that might never bring joy or bright smiles again.

Hand over hand with bubbling hope, the child searched through leaves for any trace of life or light or laughter, any scraps of words or tails of kites that might unhide themselves in the tell-tale breeze. Then a reconnecting squeal of delight severed the silence. ‘You found me,’ the old man’s voice trembled, washing his tired spirit new like a breeze and a river and a kite taking flight.

‘I never forgot where to look,’ the small, white-haired boy replied. ‘The stars appear and disappear each day, turning days into endless years. Yet still this tree stands where it has always been.’

‘Another year has passed indeed,’ the old man lamented, the twinkle in his eye clouded by the threat of tears. ‘Once more, I am reminded that I am older than the universe itself.’

‘Yes,’ the child replied, ‘But you are as young as the universe too. You are the moon, but I am a star. A moon by itself is not a universe. Nor can a universe be made of a single star. I have climbed here today to show you the galaxy.’

The old man trembled as he received into his ancient hands the small box the child proffered. Actually, it seemed more like a wordless book than a box, and as he opened the cover, a galaxy of tiny paper stars and planets swirled endlessly before his eyes.

‘One day your time will come to join the stars,’ the little boy explained. ‘But until that time, you hold the stars within your hands, inside a book you must learn to read so that you might never forget what it means to be a child, though others might not understand.’

The old man closed the cover, forever protecting the paper stars that the child had cut one by one from coloured paper with tiny hands. And he sighed to know how painstakingly the little boy had glued and glittered each one, so that when light touched them, they would beam like cosmic jewels to remind him of the life he had now and the universe that would some day embrace him. And though he was eternally grateful, he also felt a sadness well inside him, for the child who had found him hidden in the tree was not the one he had most wished to see.

‘It has been so long,’ the old man’s voice trembled, ‘since the laughter of the little girl with pink bows in her hair filled these branches. I am truly afraid she has forgotten how to climb. Once upon a time she used to hang her tiny butterflies from long pieces of glittery string; I would hear her giggle from some distant place when I discovered what she had left for me to find. But now it has been so long, I am sure she has forgotten.’

Then the small child realised that the old man did not understand. ‘She is the one who sent me here! She is the one who cut out each star by hand. She is the one who gave each star its shine and placed each one inside this box for you. It may seem as though she has forgotten everything, but on certain days, her memory is awakened, and the universe that dances inside her smile flows only in the direction of this ancient tree. She knows that today is your special day, and she alone has sent me here with this gift for you.’

And as the old man’s weathered eye released a tired tear of relief, it washed down his cheek, smoothing the ripples that time had etched upon his ancient face. As more tears fell, they washed him clean and new, smudging the furrowed lines and erasing the countless years since childhood was all that he might ever know. Even now as he looked at the hand he lifted to brush the next tear away, he marvelled at how small it was, how totally devoid of any sign that he might be growing older rather than younger.

Opening the book shaped box once more, he drew from beneath the paper stars a tiny planet, made of glass so shiny and pure that it reflected his image back to his eyes so that he knew for certain now that he was indeed only a small, white-haired boy. The old man still sat beside him on the branch, but in the long distant future, gently reminding him to take all the time in the world to be a child, to marvel in the mystery of all that it meant to be so young and small.

And as the sun began to set, the boy sat quietly, his leg dangling over the branch, humming a tune, completely alone. The old man and his box of paper stars had faded into some future time and space. The child breathed the crisp air into his tiny lungs, infused with the strange scent of magical winter leaves that grew only on this tall tree while all other trees bore the barest branches. An early star shot across the dusky sky, and the child closed his eyes to whisper his wish. Today was his special day. He kept his eyes scrunched tightly closed til he was certain he could hear the almost forgotten sounds of another child’s steps skipping with delight in the sparkling starlight.

Wishing the happiest birthday ever to my dear friend, LP – may all your wishes come true today and always – Angelica 🙂 🙂 🙂

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Angelica turned uncomfortably in the bed, but without the sense of disorientation that had steadily dissolved the longer she had been confined to sleep in this plain room by herself.  Twenty one long days and restless nights had somehow started to feel ordinary, and whatever world had continued to spin without her outside the hospital seemed nothing more than a faint, sweet dream between the endless, unscheduled meetings with doctors, surgeons, nurses, pathologists, specialists, counsellors, dieticians, physiotherapists and more.

In the haze between asleep and awake, Angelica became vaguely aware that some distant light was just starting to bathe the landscape painted on the other side of the large window, well beyond her reach. Today would be no different. The endless stream of nameless faces would soon begin to flow through her room to remind her of her poor health and utter helplessness.

Slowly, as though stepping from one level of consciousness to the next, she woke more fully to realise, no – this day was NOT just like every other. She could not find any words inside her tired mind to explain how today would be different, but the dawning day somehow seemed  infused with greater anticipation than Christmas morning.  As Angelica’s eyes focused and refocused from the ascending steps of sleep towards greater clarity, a surprising addition to the bright mural on her hospital room wall commanded her attention …

Of course, there were the massive tree with its widely outspread branches – stronger than ever, thanks to an amazing friendship  that could survive even life’s darkest hours – and the silhouette of the three children whose unique joy gave the tree its life and colour. Angelica and her friend had painted this mural with their words over the past three weeks, a fanciful escape from the banality of the stark walls that had become her prison.

But now the mural was made of more than words and daydreams. It seemed to have transcended the realm of imagination, and now it appeared to be painted permanently across the long wall that had  previously taunted her with its stark, mind-numbing bareness.

Brushing her fringe from her eyes, Angelica sat herself slowly up in her bed, (for she was not yet completely strong or quick), donned her soft dressing gown and made her way gingerly towards the mural. ‘What kind of dream is this?’ she wondered, as the sterile stench of antiseptic evaporated, giving way to the lush smell of moss and bark and freshly fallen leaves that filled her lungs with promise.

Angelica ran her hand across the tree trunk in the centre of the mural and marvelled at how the wall’s flat matt paint transformed now under her palm, filling it with a solid, round metal handle. She turned it slowly, feeling the trunk door creak slowly open, inviting her to leave the confines of the hospital room, to enter a world infinitely more inviting and familiar.

Peering through the door into the dreamworld beyond her room, Angelica felt a glowing warmth against her cheek, infusing it with a pale pink flush that had not been present for some time. Yes, she could feel the sun on her face, and she inhaled the fresh air greedily as though it was hers to breathe for the very first time.

But the warm glow was layered. Somewhere between Angelica and the bold, bright sun, there was a small, square table covered by a bright blue cloth. The table was adorned with a large metal tree, beautifully sculpted by some master craftsman, each of its sturdy branches showcasing a small leaf-shaped candle.

‘This is exquisite,’ she whispered to herself, ‘I wonder how it came to be – a tree within a tree?’ Then there was the subtle smell of fresh cut roses, and a gentle hand rested upon Angelica’s tired shoulder. ‘Don’t you know what today is?’ the kind, familiar voice whispered back. ‘This is no ordinary day, my friend.’

Then somehow – in a way that can only happen on the most blissful days when one is filled with the most potent sense of hope and belief – the cobalt cloth seemed to transform itself into a long blue cloak. And there he stood before the two girls – the magical white-haired boy. His face beamed towards his friends in the flickering light of the candles that glowed upon the metal tree.

‘This is no ordinary day,’ the boy spoke, echoing the words his love had uttered only moments before. ‘You found the handle I painted for you on the trunk of the tree. But you haven’t yet realised that the door only opens in one direction. Now that you have left your hospital room, there is no going back my friend.’

The beautiful girl who smelled like roses sighed gently. ‘We  lit these candles to keep vigil for you until you could return. See how they have brought you back to us?’ Her smiling eyes sparkled like rubies as they always did when she felt things deeply.

Angelica’s mind flooded with a wash of wonder. Was any of this real? Somehow, everything had the quality of the sweetest dream, and for a moment she shut her eyes, fearful that she would awake back in her hospital bed if she dared to open them.

But moment after moment, this world became more real, and Angelica’s heart filled with a potent certainty that the hospital room she had inhabited for the past three weeks had begun to decay into little more than a dusty delusion.

She opened her eyes, and immediately they were drawn to the shiny silver tree with its small collection of glowing candles. She counted them curiously. Eleven. And recounted them – eleven again. Why did this feel so … strange … as though there was something she must somehow fix?

Perplexed, she pushed her fringe from her eyes again, then rested her hand deep inside the pocket of her long dressing gown, only to draw it out again quickly in an attempt to determine the nature of the object she had unexpectedly found there. She rubbed her fingers again and again over the small, waxy object before understanding what it was and why today would truly be no ordinary day.

Slowly, she discerned the reason the room that had contained her for close to a month had dissolved this morning with the tentative turn of a tree trunk’s handle. She made her way towards the metal tree on the table, finding the one solid, silver branch she had not noticed before which was not yet aglow. Resting the tiny, leaf-shaped candle upon the small flat of the final branch, Angelica began to remember the significance of the day – June 13th – and closed her eyes, preparing to make a wish.

No – it was not her birthday, but she drew breath and blew gently towards the twelve candles, finding them all now lit and glowing brightly rather than extinguished when she opened her eyes again. The faces of her two friends appeared before her, magically luminous in the light and warmth of the twelve glowing leaves, now burning with all the intensity of Angelica’s relief that she had managed to free herself from the stark, sterile hospital room for such a momentous occasion.

‘My friend,’ Angelica addressed the boy in the long, blue cloak, ‘ Today is no ordinary day. Yesterday you were eleven, but today you are twelve. I light this candle to honour you on your very special day.’ A rare tear began to form in her eye, as she realised that her confinement had prevented her from finding a suitable birthday gift from her friend. The lovely rose girl standing nearby squeezed Angelica’s hand gently, reassuring as always. All that she said to the white-haired boy was also true of the beautiful girl who now stood so closely beside her.

‘My friend,’ Angelica continued, ‘You have given constantly to me in my time of need the things I needed the most. Loyalty, encouragement, inspiration, wise counsel, a listening ear, positivity and strength – in summary, you have offered the truest, purest friendship I have ever known. You have been there beside me in the darkest moments of my life, and have always been there to celebrate with me in better times, as you are truly here even now.’

‘I can never repay your friendship,’ Angelica sighed, feeling slightly inadequate as she sometimes did. ‘All I can do is offer you my deepest friendship in return.’ Her two dearest friends smiled at each other, knowing that sometimes she felt a little overwhelmed by all that she had been through and all that was still to come. Like trees, they each reached their branches towards her, filling her with their compassion and strength.

‘I do not quite know how to leave the bare walls of that stark room on the other side of the tree trunk behind me. I do not know how any single moment of my path will unfold as I reenter this magical world of colour and life and light. But the two of you have taught me many important lessons, and this is one that I shall never forget.’

‘Today is unique and tomorrow will be too. Each day will present challenges that may threaten to overwhelm me, but when I lack strength, you two will lend me your strength and help me to climb. This I know with certainty and is something I shall never doubt. I only regret -‘ Angelica lowered her eyes momentarily from the warm gaze of her friends, ‘that on your birthday, I could do no more than add the final candle to your birthday tree.’

‘You still don’t understand, do you?’ the boy in the blue cloak spoke gently, moving towards the twelve tiny candles that danced like tiny, shiny stars from the silver tree on the tabletop. ‘When you awoke this morning, you saw the mural I had painted for you, and you found the handle on the trunk to leave that other world behind you for good.  I don’t need to blow these candles out to make my birthday wish. That was my wish, and see how it has already come true?’

Angelica felt her courage grow stronger within her, coursing through her veins like strong, milky sap through the sturdy trunk of the tree. She knew that she had sometimes worried too much and perhaps at times even worried about the wrong sorts of things. She closed her eyes and felt the warmth of the twelve tiny candle leaves glowing onto her face once more.

And though the candle wishes were not hers to make, she knew that her friends would understand. One by one, she blew each of them out, wishing for peace, courage, acceptance, patience, strength, laughter, health, lady bugs and dragonflies. She wished for friendship that would never falter and that her precious, eternally young friend would have the best twelfth birthday he had ever had.

Angelica counted and recounted these wishes in her mind. Eleven. There was one more wish to be made, the most powerful wish of all, saved until last. She closed her eyes once more and wished with all her heart that this would truly be no ordinary day.

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