Birthday. Maybe it’s an auspicious one: it’s the first time in over 900 years—since 11/11/1111—that the date reads both ways, no matter how you format it. And it’s the 33rd day of the year with 333 more to go. I’d like to believe in numerical patterns and cosmic signs, but I do not feel particularly auspicious today. My beard is going grey and I’m losing track of my age. Sometimes I think I’m a year or two older than I am. Maybe this is nature’s way of softening the blow.

Time and things and plans are always falling through the cracks. Coffee and nicotine gum fuel my days. Perhaps one day it will be tea and licorice. Then rainwater. Then nothing at all. “Restriction can be a discipline to break habits,” says the artist Robert Irwin. “But it need not be a final state, and it’s no state of grace.” Maybe I’m just a gentle nudge away from buying a pack of Camels, some slight shift in the light. Because I miss smoking. The ritual of fire and ash, its irreplaceable rhythms and moments of solitude. Instead, I went for an ugly little run, my body all jiggle and creak. I wonder if, deep down, each of us carries a fantasy of one day becoming an ascetic or a mystic, some hardwired notion of stripping our lives bare and praying in the gloom.

I’m old enough to know one thing: I’m damned lucky to be here today, healthy and sober for seven years and more or less functioning in this world that has struck so many down. I do not believe in much, but I’m beginning to believe in grace.

Irwin quote from Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees.