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I’d always intended to throw a big party in San Miguel de Allende for my 60th birthday. I figured I’d not only celebrate my birthday, but also the twelve years I’ve lived part time in Mexico.

Ten years earlier, my husband had invited fifty friends to our house in Seattle to celebrate my half-century mark. It was a big surprise and people came from as far away as Oregon and California. The best surprise, however, was when my friend Martha showed up and brought her son Silas, who I helped deliver into the world when the midwife was too preoccupied unwrapping the cord from his neck to catch him. His mother and I had been estranged for over ten years and a teary rapprochement at the party led to our renewed relationship.

I remember thanking everyone, not only for coming, but because each person there had helped me, at one time or another, through a difficult time. That party was the closest thing to a perfect birthday I’d had since the surprise slumber party my best friends threw for me in 9th grade.

But the closer I got to 60, the less I felt like partying. In fact, I felt quite the opposite.

What I wanted most was a week of contemplation and retreat: yoga, meditation, reading and a tiny bit of writing sounded ideal. My only other requirement for it was that it be in Mexico, the place I love most in the world. So I signed up for Elizabeth Rainey’s yoga/meditation retreat in Sayulita, in the state of Nayarit, and booked an extra three days at Playa Escondido on the front end for a pre-retreat retreat. I spent those first three days meditating, reading, getting massages and staring at the ocean for hours at a time. My idea of pure bliss.

The day the retreat started I walked up the hill from Playa Escondido to the Haramara Retreat, ten minutes away. The following week held even more delights than the first three days: there were abundant ocean and mountain views from Haramara; six a.m. meditation sits as the sun came up; an amazing array of birds twittering, tweeting, or bursting into song; morning and evening yoga sessions with the yoga goddess, Rainey, that strengthened my muscles and my commitment to do yoga until the day I die; a congenial and interesting group of fellow yogis; the ever-present sound of the ocean, clear air and brilliant blue skies. And a very special night spent watching the full moon in Libra rise over the coastal range of the Sierra Madres from the lower pavilion.

For me, however, the sweetest surprise of the retreat happened the night a guitar player came by to serenade us at dinner.

The main course had been cleared as we sat around a big communal table gabbing. The guitarist was playing an assortment of old Mexican favorites mixed with a smattering of Flamenco. He played La Llorona, a Mexican ballad I adore, especially when Chavela Vargas sings it.

Then a waiter emerged from the kitchen bearing a giant gluten-free birthday cake for me and my fellow yogini, Joyce, and the guitar player immediately switched to Las Mañanitas, the Mexican birthday song. The guitarist’s friend, a buxom middle-aged woman dressed in a hot pink t-shirt, stood and sang the complete version for us. Like the Spanish language in general, the Mexican birthday song is far more romantic than the English one. I translated for Joyce and our group as she sang:

Wake up my dearest, wake up, see now that the day has dawned
now the little birds are singing, the moon has finally set.
How lovely it is in this morning, when I come to greet for you
we all come with joy and pleasure and to celebrate with you.
The very day you were born all the flowers here have bloomed
and in the baptismal font all the nightingales have sung.
The dawn has come my darling, and the sunlight’s here for us.
Rise and shine up with the morning and you’ll see that here’s the dawn.

Later, as we were all straggling out of the dining room and back to our palapas for the night, I stopped by the table where the guitar player and his woman friend were sitting.

Muchas gracias for singing Las Mañanitas to us,” I said to them in Spanish. “It was a very special birthday present.” The singer smiled at me.

“Can I give you a birthday hug?” she asked.

 “¡Claro, que sí!” I said.

She stood up and enveloped me in the most generous, life-affirming embrace I’ve ever received. And that’s saying a lot. I’ve been hugged three times by Amma, India’s Hugging Saint, and it didn’t feel half as love-filled and genuine as the woman in hot pink’s hug. She smelled sweet and spicy like a good Oaxacan mole. Her body was warm and her skin smooth and soft. I felt as if I were being embraced by Mother Mexico herself.

 

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