their ages and hometowns scroll down the silent screen. It was painful, depressing. Most
were very young. I understood their patriotism and devotion to duty. The same emotions
had been stirred in me, as a nineteen year old, during the Korean War. Many with whom I
served would not come home. Their birthdays ended almost sixty years ago.
Lately, it is sometimes difficult for me to sidestep the pitfall of pessimism. Our world
seems fraught with , what appears to be, insurmountable problems: the scourge of AIDS,
international terrorism, the dangers of nuclear proliferation, the specter of global warm-
ing. Nationally, there is rampant illegal immigration, increasing poverty and homelessness,
the mysterious epidemic of autism. And, our ability to address problems of such magni-
tude seems diminished, our political system too broken.
Nancy tried to lift me from my funk. It was, she reminded me, my birthday and time
for the “Big Water”. I reflected on the Depression birthdays of my early childhood. There
were no parties. On birthday morning, I was kept in my room until called. When brought
to the breakfast table, my parents and my sister were already seated. A cupcake holding a
lit candle was on my plate. There was a small gift, often a children’s book. They sang
“Happy Birthday”. It was simple. It was intimate. It was memorable.
WIBORG Fred W. Nagel
- 4 -
At the beach, it was a marvelous winter morning. The air was still but sharp, the sun
brilliant. We parked and strode down to the shore. The ocean was calm. Small breakers
curled upon the sand and rode up to our feet. To the west, a bank of clouds draped them-
selves across the sky. A shaft of sunlight beamed, cathedral-like, through an aperture in
their midst, painting a swath of color across the water’s surface. A few sea birds ran,
staccato, along the water’s edge. A gull floated. effortlessly, upon the air.
We looked down the shoreline. Nancy stood before me. I folded my arms around her
and we stayed some time in silence. How often, I thought, for how many years, had I
looked upon this scene, captivated by this expanse of sea and sky. Suddenly, then, it
seemed that I were seeing it anew; as if, before, I’d viewed it as one might an exquisite
painting, a luminous Cezanne. I began to feel elated. I was not seeing that which was
before me, I was truly living it. I was not something viewing something else, I was it…
such an integral part of it, there was no separation, no division. The sea, the sand, the
gull, the plovers, Nancy and I were one, sharing, in this small but endless space, an instant
of fleeting and eternal time.
I felt unbridled joy. I was this living moment; fully conscious, free of all distraction,
exquisitely in touch with this complex, sometimes terrible, always wondrous thing that is
life. I wished myself a Happy Birthday, gave thanks to my departed parents and the Great
As we left the beach and moved up from the shore, I noticed, in the sand beside me, the
paw prints of what must have been an exceptionally large dog.
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