About 30 minutes ago, I became one year older. I have a lot of emotions around this birthday, some good and some not so good. What follows might be a random/stream-of-consciousness mess but know that it will be largely unedited. It is just what it is. For example, I thought earlier tonight that I needed to take a shower in case I don’t wake up in the morning, my body will be clean when they find me. (Who thinks stuff like this? Well, apparently, I do.) These are representative thoughts tonight.
I’m starting to feel my age and understand the direction of my life’s trajectory. Other birthdays have been significant, too, but for different reasons.
- 18 was hard. I was about to graduate high school, and I needed to know what to do with my life, and I didn’t have a clue how to proceed. (See the memoir.)
- 27 was a big question. I was about to have a baby, and I didn’t know what that would be like. I didn’t have a lot of role models of good parents (at that moment), and I was living in Japan far from anyone who could teach me (this ended up being a blessing). I struggled about what kind of mother I’d be and in what kind of culture I’d rear my child. I think I learned to be a good mother. And I figured out the culture thing.
- 29 was the biggest challenge. I couldn’t help but think that in a year’s time, I’d be 30 (old!). I was depressed for the entire year.
- 29 was also the year I became a Christian (for real). I’d gone through the motions of accepting Christ when I was a teenager, but I didn’t understand what that meant and how I needed to work at changing my life. (Changing wasn’t to be a passive experience.) I was just too young and immature to understand. At 29, I understood fully well what needed to change, and I knew I couldn’t do it by myself.
- 34 was the year I learned the power of forgiveness. specifically forgiving myself.
- 36 wasn’t too bad. I was about to graduate from college, and this was a dream I’d had since childhood, a dream I never expected to see come to fruition.
- 40 was the year I started a PhD program, and that just seemed surreal (again, see the memoir).
- 49 was the year I defended a dissertation. This was an exceptionally challenging time (had nothing to do with the birthday, just the experience of finishing a terminal degree). Just an aside: defending a dissertation and earning a PhD at 49 is not common. I’m an anomaly.
- 57 was the year I became a grandmother. Nothing, and I mean nothing, can top what this has meant to the meaning of my life. I loved being a mother, but I always thought that I didn’t deserve to be anyone’s mother. But to be someone’s grandmother was an experience like none other: having a grandchild meant that everything (my life, my daughter’s life, my grandchild’s life, just life) would be OK. I could see how it all worked together, and that we all survived, and that we could (despite circumstances) thrive. I survived me. My daughter survived me. All the struggle and pain meant something, and it all worked out. After so much pain (again, memoir), life worked out.
These years are the ones that come to mind first. There are others. There are years of accomplishment and years that I didn’t think I could go on. But isn’t that life for everyone? I have thought at times that my life has been hard– and at times harder than anyone could imagine– but that my life (that I) was different in some ways. I don’t think that any longer. We all struggle; we just struggle differently.
But on the eve of this birthday, I reflect on my life and what I’ve accomplished. And it’s been quite a bit.
- I was a good mother when I never thought I could (or should) be a mother at all.
- I have done things that have left impressions: good things, odd things, bad things, just things.
- I am a photographer.
- I have graduate degrees.
- I own two businesses, businesses where I have no formal training, just learning as I go along.
- I directed a nonprofit organization that worked at bringing literacy activities and endeavors to the community (to children and to women in domestic violence shelters).
- I can tell people that I love them and mean it.
- I understand the why’s and how’s of my family dynamic and the havoc and pain it caused. (Understanding isn’t enough, though.)
- I have affected people (students, clients, friends, colleagues, family) in some profound ways.
- I trust my own intuitions because they are usually spot-on.
- I am open and unashamedly vulnerable. I find power and truth in vulnerability.
- I have tried and failed more times than I can recall at so many things, but I kept going.
- I never gave up. (To be forthcoming, I did try.)
I could keep listing items, but as I wrote that prior list, I recognized the theme that runs through it all: I know that I am only given this one life, and I choose (I choose!) to get as much out of it as I can. On this birthday, I recognize that I have made mistakes, and I’ve apologized. I’ve hurt people, and I’ve tried to make amends. I have taken wrong turns in my life, but I’ve tried to right those wrong turns. I have regrets, but I don’t dwell on those (too much), as there is nothing I can do about them but learn from them and move on. I’m just like everyone else, I’ve finally come to understand.
If tonight was to be my last night on this earth (at least I’d be clean!), I could say that I have done my best. I have experienced life and I have given as much of myself as I knew how to give. I have done all I can do. However (and this is a big “however”), I don’t want it to be over. There is more to experience, there is more to do, there is more to feel, there is more to say. There is more love, more insight, more hugs, more kisses, more laughter, more, just more….
And I want to experience it all.
(A note about the photograph: I took this photo in 2010 or so in Corpus Christi. I like this photo as it represents how beautiful something can be as it wears down. I love the beauty in the (perceived) flaws.