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                                                             JOURNAL #183

                                                              April 16, 2015


            I celebrated my 80th birthday Tuesday. It would be, I expected, a milestone. Birthdays with zeroes on the end are always, in later years, a bit intimidating. So when Maureen suggested a month or two ago that we have a major league party, I backed off. We'd keep it quiet. Low key. Just, you know, relax. We invited a couple of friends over for pizza and pinochle, and that would be it. Not even mention the birthday. But it's hard to keep a secret these days. They showed up with a gift, a baseball cap that reads '80 Years and Counting.'

            My family presented me with some books that I'd expressed interest in. (The titles have been posted at .) Birthday greetings cascaded in on the website.  We enjoyed the evening, and moved on. I didn't feel any older. I wasn't the same guy who'd run cross-country in high school, but life was good.

            Then, about mid-morning Wednesday, my older son appeared. He'd flown in, with no advance notice, from Atlanta. That meant the entire family was here. First time together since Christmas.

            Somebody suggested that we take advantage of the opportunity to have dinner out somewhere. Somebody else suggested the Southern Table downtown. I'd not been there, but that was fine by me. My kids left early because they had stuff to do, so we'd agreed to meet at the restaurant at 6:30.

            Maureen and I arrived a few minutes late, walked in the door, and I found myself looking into a sea of familiar faces. Somebody was taking pictures, people began applauding, and I froze. There wasn't a stranger anywhere in the building. Not what you expect when you stroll into a restaurant. I probably would not have been the quickest gun in the west, but I finally figured it out.

            The place was filled with friends, some of whom had traveled a substantial distance. Dinner was served, somebody turned the music on and the first piece was "As Time Goes By," my favorite song from my favorite movie.

            I spent the night wandering from table to table, reliving some of the more entertaining moments of my life, both remote and recent. Having all those people, on that single occasion, gathered in one place, gave me a sense of how blessed I've been. Life is about family and friends. Some were physically there; others had been sending greetings electronically over the previous 24 hours. Still others existed only in memory.

If we're lucky enough to live in a country that provides a peaceful environment, maybe it's the essence of what really matters.