I celebrated a birthday this week, and as always with milestones and big occasions, it makes you realize where you are and how far you’ve come and reflect on the year behind as well as the one in front of you. Remember when I posted a list of 33 goals last year? That list got abandoned in the chaos of my past 5 months, but I had no idea when I wrote that post that life had bigger plans on what I needed to learn in my 33rd year.
Last year on my birthday, we ate dinner as a family on the back porch to inaugurate daylight savings time and spring and another year for me. I posted a photo of Norah and me on Instagram, and I captioned it with a quote by Jarod Kintz that I’d run across which says, “The year of your birth marks only your entry into the world. Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating.” I intended that as a reflection on the previous year and the challenges that I faced in motherhood and work and the whole work-family balance I began that year. It’s so weird to look back on that now – knowing I had no idea the challenges that lied in front of me.
But this year, friends, I really proved my worth. I’ve got a mountain left to climb in the coming months, but I’m on the way. I celebrated this week in a big way. Lunch with a friend on my actual birthday (with cupcakes!) followed by an impulse buy to a concert on Friday night with some former coworkers who have become like family to me. (For Hozier, and people, if you have not heard that album go buy it NOW. I have been obsessed for months.) The setlist was just what I wanted it to be, the venue was great, and he closed with a couple of my favorites as the audience sang along. I love those connected moments you get with strangers at events like plays and concerts. It felt like church in the most real way.
Then Saturday afternoon my closest girlfriends of 16 years treated me to a facial and a private spa party at our favorite place to chat and treat ourselves. The older I get, the more grateful I am for my truest friends. I cannot begin to explain the struggles we’ve encountered in the time we’ve known each other – and I won’t because some of those struggles are closely held and deeply personal for us. But it has all shown me that life is so scary and unpredictable and that most importantly, the human spirit is stronger. The strength I gather from these women and their perspectives and stories is like no other. I’m so lucky to know them and to be loved by them. After that, we went out to dinner and met up with my other closest group (whom I saw Friday at the concert, so it was a double treat). I could not have made it through year 33 standing on my own two feet without this crew. And I mean that with absolute sincerity. There were days, weeks even, that I really just wanted to roll over and cry a river and did not understand what the next step would be to move forward. But these girls and their constant contact and honesty with me, their acceptance of me and their listening ears when I poured everything out in all its ugliness, they are the force that pushed me forward. It’s such an irony that the year I learned I was so dearly loved is the year that I lost the person who was supposed to love me, so to speak. He was expected to and bound to by vows and legal trappings and societal expectations, but these women emerged as my tribe this year. My people and my family. I cannot write enough words of gratitude to express what that has been for me, the way it has healed me. I am loved and valued, and I truly don’t know that I would feel that without so much support from so many people this year.
We followed up dinner with a spontaneous decision to walk around a bit and stop for cookies. Can’t help but laugh at the deja-vu of a mall cookie experience with a group of thirty-somethings. It was in an outdoor shopping area, and we saw groups of middle schoolers walking together. We struck up a conversation with a few of them and reminisced on what those early days of independence felt like for us, when parents would first allow you to go on an outing alone with friends and the thrill of possibility it brought to you. And now, at 34, my life is so different than it was at 14, of course. But I feel that sense of possibility emerging a bit despite the pain. My perspective is shifting in the slightest way, and I am realizing that a whole world lies ahead and I don’t know what it holds, and that is both terrifying and thrilling. But it is mine. All mine. With my decisions and my own ideas and my own future waiting. I don’t know where or to whom it will take me, but it is a blank canvas right now, and I think I’m ready to start painting it as I begin year 34.
Another birthday treat came last weekend with a handwritten card (oh, how I love real mail!) from a graduate school friend who knows my love for Mary Oliver and reminded me of the joy in the journey, so to speak. The joy of possibility and self sovereignty. There is another line from that poem that I adore which says, “there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world.” And I’m hearing that voice now. When I am still and quiet and allow myself to listen to it, I’m hearing my own voice.
It sounds like an old friend.