I have been meaning to write a letter to you for a while... since my birthday actually on October 29th. You see, you were responsible for something very special that happened to me that day.
I'll tell the story.
On the night of my birthday I had the choice of going out to dinner or attending a lecture by Ben Zander. He was going to talk about his book, the Art of Possibility. I had read the book and loved it, and I thought it would be good to support him, knowing how sometimes not a lot of people show up at these things. Bruce and I had met him at one of your parties, but Bruce always managed to be sitting nearer to him or his lovely wife, I remember only speaking to him briefly.
Back to birthday night: I was in a quandary. It was dinner or the lecture, and the lecture certainly didn't seem like a birthday thing to do at all. I had gone back and forth on this, then Bruce didn't want to go, but then I thought we should go. Bruce was also a bit cranky, because he wasn't able to surprise me with anything. Either we had picket out a birthday gift together or I had managed to guess whatever was going on that day.
We skipped dinner and went to the Tower School, and we reintroduced ourselves to Ben, I'm sure that he remembered Bruce, but not me. Nonetheless, he was welcoming and gracious.
About five minutes into the lecture, he was beginning to make a point about how we should not limit our options and choices in life that we have possibilities open to us to solve problems if we look at ways we have either never thought of before - or act in ways unusual to our normal behavior. To support this argument, he stopped and asked if anyone's birthday was near. I raised my hand. When he learned it was my birthday, he said perfect. He asked me to come to the stage.
And then he started conducting. He told the audience of 150 to sing happy birthday to me and I was standing in a chair in front of them. Ben gave them instructions and they all sang. But Ben said it wasn't good enough. The audience all sang again, and this time, he encouraged them to sing, really listening to the lyrics and making sure they used the proper emphasis. "Sing louder with more feeling, he directed.
It still isn't good enough," Ben complained.
Ben made me stand on the folding chair, and he told me how important my birthday was, because I was important and that I would be making contribution in life and they should be really sincere. He made them stand up and sing with their whole body - with gestures - and he made them look right at me instead of him. And I, in turn, was to be silent and take it in.
Well, it was truly amazing. I was deeply moved. Ben said the audience would never forget singing happy birthday to me like that (and that singing happy birthday would never be the same for them ever) and he said that I would never forget.
After the lecture, many people - all strangers - came over to wish me a happy birthday, and many hugged me, even the principal of the Tower School in Marblehead where the lecture took place.
What to make of this? The lesson was deeper than just using my intuition to go to the lecture instead o f celebrating my birthday in private with Bruce and skipping dinner. Singing this birthday song was more meaningful than anyone knew. This is a challenging birthday for me because my mother died less than three weeks after her 53rd birthday. I turned 53 that day. And despite all efforts at positive thinking, therapy, meditation, the reality of genetic jeopardy is still there: I can't escape it.
This birthday event was the most beautiful gift from the universe, a gift I couldn't have dreamt of if I tried (and in the stranger world of cause and effect, it was a gift from you both, too.) And this birthday peak experience of mine also made Bruce very happy, because I really did get a surprise.
Please share this with Ben, and please give him another hug from me. The gift continues... Just yesterday in the supermarket someone came over to say hello, reminding me that she snag happy birthday to me that night.
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