Lisa Scottoline: A boatload of love

It's everybody's favorite time of year again.

My birthday!

That's how I feel about my birthday, and that's how I feel about yours, too.

I celebrate your birthday in my head, so I hope you're celebrating mine in your head.

It's cheaper that way.

Also, we don't get drunk.

Well, maybe I do.

But this birthday felt different to me, in a good way.

I feel super-happy just to be alive.

Let's pause a moment.

I know that sounds kind of Splenda, but it's really true. And the fact is, absolutely nothing has changed from last year.

In fact, that's exactly what is making me happy.

It really is a good thing to be grateful sometimes that you're still living.

I get constant reminders of this, and I had one just last weekend, with Francesca. We were scheduled to give a speech about our collections of funny stories like these, the newest of which is out July 11, titled I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere But the Pool.

Actually, I need a lifeguard at the pool, too.

But that's another story.

Literally.

Anyway, we were supposed to speak at the American Library Association conference in Chicago, and we were both excited because we love librarians.

Hug your librarian the next time you see him or her.

They don't get enough hugs.

Nobody does.

See what I mean?

Splenda!

Anyway, when I go on a business trip, I fly out, do my gig, and fly right back. I don't do anything other than the gig, because it's business.

But Francesca had a different idea. "Mom, I've never been to Chicago," she said. "Why don't we go sightseeing and leave later that night?"

I rolled my eyes. Inwardly.

Don't roll your eyes outwardly if you're a mother.

You'll get in a lot of trouble.

But I said yes, and Francesca went online, researching the things you could do in Chicago, which I heard about with an inward eye-roll.

Because I didn't think you were supposed to have fun on a business trip.

And before I knew it, we were in Chicago, we did our gig, talked about our book and gave a lot of hugs, then we woke up the next day, ready for tourist fun in the sun.

What did we do?

We saw the cool bean statue at Millennium Park.

Cool beans!

And we went to the gorgeous Buckingham Fountain, which is next to a body of water they say is a lake but anybody from Philly would call an ocean.

But the best thing we did was take a boat ride with a billion other tourists down the Chicago River, with a volunteer telling us the architectural history of the skyscrapers.

Inward eye-roll?

Same here, but I was wrong.

It was awesome.

Because this amazing volunteer knew everything about architecture and gave us almost two hours of her time simply because she loves architecture and her city.

And because we learned everything about the brilliant architects and engineers who imagined and then built a slew of incredible buildings, each one a tribute to human ingenuity and hard work.

And because people on the bank waved to our boat as we floated by, and Francesca and I waved back, even though we had no idea who they were, or they us.

In fact, we waved at people on the riverbanks the whole damn boat trip, and people on the riverbanks waved back, and that made Francesca and me tear up, unaccountably.

OK, accountably, since we're Italian American.

We cry all the time.

That's how you know we're happy.

The boat trip was a reminder of the simple truth that we're all just human beings, floating down some river, waving at each other as we go by.

And when I thought of the architects, the engineers, the volunteers, and the librarians, I felt awed by all of us, just normal people, filled with so much vision and heart, following whichever endeavor we choose, our passion or our job and sometimes both. With just ourselves, we build communities, cities, and even countries.

Like this one.

And by the end of the day, I remembered I was happy to be alive.

You probably already know this lesson, but in my life, I need to teach it to myself from time to time.

Which is to go slower.

Enjoy yourself.

Feel the sun on your face.

Wave.

And do really touristy things because there's a reason so many people like to do the same things, wherever they go.

Because people are basically the same, everywhere you go.

We're all tourists in this life, aren't we?

None of us is from here.

And none of us is staying.

And so my biggest birthday present was that I got another year on my trip.

I pray that will be your present, too.

Happy birthday to us.

And, of course, to America.

Look for Lisa and Francesca's new humor collection, "I Need a Lifeguard Everywhere But the Pool," coming July 11, and Lisa's latest domestic thriller, "One Perfect Lie," in stores now. Also, look for Lisa's new Rosato & DiNunzio novel, "Exposed," coming Aug. 15.

lisa@scottoline.com.