Celebrate with me! Today, I've survived 62 years. I can't imagine how I have arrived here. I'm certain I was 22 only yesterday. What changes time has wrought.
Forty years ago, I paid big bucks to turn my mousy blond hair to a silvery white. Now Mother Nature is my hairdresser - and I don't have to worry about dark roots.
Forty years ago, I wanted a fur coat. Today, I have cats and fur everything: T-shirts, slacks, dresses, pillows.
Forty years ago, I had a curvacious body that was a picture of perfection in a bikini. Today, my body is still a picture - painted by Rubens. It makes a tankini look like a bikini.
Forty years ago, I wanted a large family, five boys for a basketball team and one girl to be my princess. Then I had one son and one daughter, got smart, and quit. Today, I would raise cats, not kids.
But I did end up with two princesses: granddaughters Sarah and Jessica.
Forty years ago, I helped a friend write a college paper on genetic manipulation and its dangers as well as its wonders. Today, that paper has become reality . . . and I wonder how dangerous that is.
Forty years ago, I wanted a love to surpass all others, a soul mate to live and die with. Today, one divorce later, I have been with my soul mate for 37 years and hope for another 37. By then, he'll be in his teens - 116 to be exact, and I'll be a mere 99.
Forty years ago, I wanted to be rich. Today, I am rich in the love of family and friends and in the support and caring of neighbors and co-workers.
Forty years ago, I wanted to become a prize-winning writer. Today, I tell stories of people who help, who strive, who survive. I share stories of animals saved and lost, of stupidity by pet owners and compassion by animal lovers. I speak to you of children who accomplish things, finding good in themselves and often sharing it with those needing something good in their lives.
I hope to tug your heartstrings, put a smile on your face or stroke your ego on occasion. Mostly, I try to tell the good news to offset so much bad news.
And the knowledge that somebody is actually reading what I write and perhaps, in some small way, what I write makes a difference somewhere, is my prize.
Forty years ago, I wanted the environment to be pure again, without noxious plumes belching from blackened smokestacks and carbon monoxide pouring from tailpipes on car and trucks. I wanted an end to the acid rain that was killing our forests and ruining our monuments.
Today, I'm still a tree hugger, and I find it an abomination when developers clear-cut wooded lots, evicting - or killing - the gopher tortoises, foxes, blacksnakes and others that sought shelter among the trees and brush. They replace this green Eden with uniform concrete boxes they call homes or monstrosities called malls . . . and they plant tiny trees that will take years to mature.
Forty years ago, I was sure we could have world peace. But no one, not my beloved Kennedys who died too quickly, not the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr, whose dream was mine, not Mother Teresa who cared so much for those with so little, and certainly not our politicians or the pope have given us that.
Today, I have learned that politicians and religious leaders are fallible humans with personal agendas, attacking our rights and warring on others to suit their egos. Now I turn from them and find my peace and my God in my garden, in the call of the hawk that has had to move at least once when her lakeside habitat was demolished, in the antics of the squirrels, in the songs of the birds and the grunts of the alligators. Here I am reborn, even as each new bud celebrates the rebirth of life.
I am amazed at what changes 40 years have made, both in my life and in the world at large. In some ways, we are better, with many diseases under control, air that is cleaner and choices in so many areas of our lives that were unavailable 40 years ago. In other ways, we have fallen behind: making war based on lies, chipping away at constitutional freedoms, and still afraid of those whose belief system or color differs from ours.
Forty years from now, as I celebrate my 102nd birthday, I hope my grandchildren will rise on that occasion and say to those assembled: "Eighty years ago, our grandmother was a young woman with hopes and dreams to fill a lifetime.
"She has seen many, if not all, of her dreams come true. She has made a difference in the lives she touched, in her environment and in the world around her.
"But most of all," I hope they will be able to say, "her dream of a peaceful world where no skin color, no creed, no bank account overrides the hopes and dreams of any person . . . that dream has come true."
Or am I only dreaming?