happy birthday to me

a sabbatical rest, day 59

I turned 68 in Kathmandu, which is kind of a fun thing to say. It’s more fun to do, though. Technically, I spent most of the day in Bhaktapur. But it’s in the Kathmandu valley, so that’s close enough.

Before I recount the day or take stock of its significance, I want to say I appreciate the commitment that Spring Arbor University has made to cross-cultural studies, which has allowed me to travel with students to China, Ireland, Argentina, India, and Nepal. I consider the cross-cultural requirement for students one of our university’s greatest benefits to students—a way of opening up the world, stretching students and staff to consider new perspectives, greater responsibilities, and personal gratitude.

It helps Katie and me, and the students, to reconsider our place in the world, and our responsibility for it. And to recognize how blessed we are. Outside the university’s commitment to these things, I could not have imagined sitting here today, on the balcony outside our sixth-floor apartment with a parakeet on the nearby treetop. Ok, maybe I could have imagined the parakeet since I was born and raised in South Florida where we have such things. Papaya and fresh-squeezed orange juice, both of which I have enjoyed today, were also samples of my childhood. (The longitude of Kathmandu is roughly the same as Disney World in Orlando.)

But I digress. I spent my birthday with friends in nearby Bhaktapur. We went to church together that morning (Christians often worship on Saturday in Nepal since Sunday is a regular school and workday in this largely Hindu culture.) That night Baileyna made us (water) buffalo stew, with lentil and rice flour pancakes. It was amazing. And my palate is getting accustomed to the rich, aromatic spices here.

When we got back to our apartment, we chatted with a couple of our kids back in the USA. It turns out we have excellent internet service here. And then today, Sunday, which we have chosen as our day off, we continued the birthday celebration with a long walk and breakfast in Thamel, a tourist-friendly district without any tourists these days. On an outdoor patio at the Blueberry Kitchen, I got an omelet, with chicken sausage, hash browns, and that fresh-squeezed orange juice for about $3.80 US.

It was a nice weekend, with good friends and great food. And as my friend Jody Lutes back in the USA reminded me on Facebook, with the perfect travel companion. There was, of course, a lot of well-wishing on social media, and I’m grateful for family, friends and former students who remember me, and read my blog. This includes new friends I’m making here, who were the first to wish me a happy birthday since it got here sooner on this side of the world.

But you can only have lifelong friends if you have a long life. I’m blessed indeed. Taking stock of these blessings requires a recognition of God’s faithfulness in my life, which helps to see even the blind beggar on the street as bearers of His image. I’ve learned many things in 68 years, but travel in particular has taught me to see past the irritations and inconveniences I may encounter, and see the beauty of a sidewalk vendor. The unfamiliar colors, sounds, smells and taste foreshadow a kingdom where every tribe and tongue will gather before God’s throne in joyous praise.

I don’t have to wait until then. I can praise Him now, with each sip of Himalayan tea, as I greet new colleagues, or as I celebrate old friends. Travel does not just make me grateful for the many privileges I have at home, but for the richness of creation and the hospitality of strangers.

So, happy birthday to me. I feel happy today. Aja khusi lagyo.

And blessed.

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