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See the author’s TEDx Talk on Creating Extraordinary Intimacy in a Shut Down World
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I planned the surprise party she would never forget only to have my life profoundly change as well…
My Partner Jacky’s birthday is coming up in just over a week. In thinking about what kinds of things I’d like to do for her on this special day, I’m feeling a bit intimidated. That’s because I don’t think I could ever top what I did for her previous birthday. You see, last year she turned 50. Now ask anyone who has turned (or about to turn) 50 and they will tell you it is a *very* big deal. And I think for women, this can be even more difficult because it represents (at least in our culture) the passing of one’s youthful beauty. A sentiment not shared by how my eyes and heart perceive this most beautiful of Beings.
So I planned a surprise party that she would never forget and hopefully be one of the best days in her life. What I didn’t count on, and never saw coming, was that it would become the best day in my life as well…
Apparently, Not Everyone Likes Surprises
To be honest, I’m a bit gun shy about putting on surprise parties. I learned the hard way from a previous relationship that not everyone is thrilled by them. I remember planning a big surprise party for a (now ex) girlfriend’s 40th birthday. I totally dedicated myself into making sure this would be tons of fun with lots of people and full of many surprises during the whole ordeal. I even planned a special trip for us to Hawaii. And just to give it that special something, I arranged for the tickets to float out in a basket suspended with netting under a very large helium balloon just after she blew out the candles on her cake.
Great idea, right? Well, she somehow got wind of the “surprise” party and made it immediately and unequivocally clear she didn’t want one –period. She said she didn’t like being the center of attention, which I totally respect. However, to say I felt deflated and hurt by not being allowed to give to her in this way is putting it mildly. Oh, I still did the floating airline tickets under the balloon thing (during a much smaller gathering among close friends). Since she already knew about it there was really no surprise which made the whole exercise seem perfunctory and frankly, just a bit phony. And it certainly didn’t help that the ticket under that now pathetic balloon was for just one person. Her birthday wish was to go to Hawaii, alone. Talk about rubbing salt into the wound. That was a one-two punch of a) I don’t want you to give to me in the way you would like, and b) I’d prefer to spend time in paradise by myself, thank you! It almost makes me want to change the title to that old Lesley Gore song to: “It’s Your Party and I’ll Cry if I Want to!”.
Making Certain, Sort Of
Now you can see why I couldn’t leave to chance how Jacky felt about surprise parties. So one evening in the shower together about three months prior to her big day, I casually asked her if she liked surprise parties. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Dummy! You just blew the surprise!” Given the ample distractions during our typical showers together, I was fairly confident that she would eventually forget I even asked her (which is exactly what happened.) Unfortunately, her response of “I don’t know, I never had one before.” wasn’t very helpful.
So, I had to go to Plan B. I reached out to her ex-husband (the three of us are all good friends) and asked him, hoping he would shed some more light on how she would respond to a big surprise party in her honor. Well, he wasn’t much help either. His only insight into this deepening mystery was that he really wasn’t sure since he had never given her one before. Swell. Okay, on to Plan C. And that was to simply go with my gut. I knew Jacky loved adventure, which by definition, is an ongoing string of surprises, right? So I just went for it and hoped for the best.
It’s All in the Planning
Once I knew it was a “Go!” (at least from my perspective) I threw myself into the planning. The first thing I did was hire a college student friend of mine to handle all the details of arranging for the welcome banner, cake, food, drink, music and so on. The next step was to procure a friend’s home to host the party. When I went over to visit my friend to discuss the details, I noticed that she had a brand new 84” Internet-enabled TV and that gave me a great idea!
Jacky is originally from South America where the rest of her family lives. Understandably, they wouldn’t be able to physically attend the party, but perhaps I could arrange the next best thing. I knew one of her tech savvy relatives who spoke a bit of English from our last trip to Argentina and also knew he had access to the rest of her family in Paraguay. So my devious mind starting working overtime as he and I conspired to arrange for her family to “suddenly” appear live via video Skype during the party. A conspiracy delightfully embraced by my party venue hosts.
Now with all the party details in place, I had to figure a way to get us to our friend’s home on her birthday without causing suspicion. About two weeks prior to the party I told Jacky I would take her out to a special dinner to celebrate her birthday. A gesture to which she seemed very appreciative and excited. About five days prior to the party I casually mentioned that our friend “Cat” was going out of town the day after her birthday and wanted to give her a nice bottle of wine before she left on her trip. She had requested that we stop by before our dinner to chat and receive her gift. “Oh, how nice!” Jacky responded. Little did she know…
The Day That Changed Everything
When we woke together the morning of her birthday I had this funny feeling it was going to be something beyond what I had planned. Little did I know just how true that would be. I somehow fell into this place of making this special day just about her and not about me. As if I was simply creating the “space” in which the day unfolded allowing her to blossom in the most beautiful and loving way possible. My total and absolute focus was on her – which frankly was a first for me.
After breakfast in bed we made love with her peaking in a way neither one of us even thought was possible. We then took a walk on the beach. While beautifully clear and sunny, it was a bit blustery and cool. So we were bundled up (at least by California standards) and walked hand-in-hand just savoring the moment and the celebration that was unfolding. At one point, purely by intuition, we ducked behind a large rock to shield ourselves from the biting wind. As we stood there together looking into each other’s eyes, my full Presence in a state of giving, hers in a state of receiving, we kissed. It was a gentle kiss, where our lips barely touched yet stayed that way for seemingly an eternity. And with that kiss we both had our first experience of Unity –the coming together of our very essences or Spirits. This took us both totally by surprise. Once our lips finally parted I asked her: “Did you just feel something… different?” To which she responded: “I saw and felt something like two clouds of smoke coming together and merge into one. It was incredible!” This is exactly what I experienced and we marveled about it long after as we strolled down the beach back to my place.
I frankly can’t remember the rest of the day after that up until the time of the party. That kiss kind of threw us both for a loop and put us both in a very powerful state of being fully Present for each other.
As we finished getting all dressed and dolled up to go out to her birthday dinner, I reminded her that we needed to first stop off at Cat’s place to pick up her bottle of wine. As we held each other’s hands while slowly walking up to our friend’s door I was hoping and praying that the assembled partiers would be quiet enough to not spoil the surprise.
Upon slowly opening the screen door, the first thing that greeted us was this huge happy 50th Birthday banner my assistant had hung on the ceiling –something that Jacky totally missed! That’s because her mind was already in a state of cognitive dissonance trying to resolve why so many of our friends were there and shouting something her brain was having difficulty comprehending.
Once she realized what was going down her jaw dropped and really never fully came back up until the last good byes. In fact, it dropped a good deal further about 20 minutes into the party when all of a sudden her entire family in Paraguay showed up live on that giant 84” screen. She and her family did their best to exchange greetings and amazement within the cacophony of the ongoing party. Nevertheless, this connection with her family half-a-world away made its mark more profoundly than I even expected.
“This was the best day of my life!”
After all the excitement and dust settled, my Partner, the love of my life, told me in no uncertain terms that this was the best day of her life. While her appreciation and affirmation warmed my heart beyond measure, I noticed something had occurred for me as well.
When I stopped to really think about it and examine what I felt and continued to feel as a result of this day, I realized it was the best day of my life as well. Me, being me, I always want to know why I experience what I do. Was it because she had her best day and I was partly to blame? Or, was it something else.
That’s when it hit me. The reason this was the best day of my life, which I felt to my very core, was that I gave to her without any thought about myself. This is the first time I’ve ever given so fully of myself without thinking about what’s in it for me. And how that hit me was both unexpected and frankly, exquisitely beautiful.
To this very day she thanks me for putting on the surprise party of her life. And to this day I am grateful that I learned one of the most important lessons in my life. Fulfillment at the deepest level with another human being is not about getting, it’s all about giving fully, completely and unreservedly without any thought of return. And, the recipient receiving with full appreciation and without reservation.
All of which means this was a surprise party where we both ended up very, very surprised.
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